Thursday, September 01, 2005

Federal government wasn't ready for Katrina, disaster experts say

I don't usually post stuff like this, but this is scandalous and folks need to know where our government's priorities are. This is very upsetting. Check out my other post on how you can help.


Experts say government scrimped on storm spending and shifted attention to fighting terrorism

By Seth Borenstein
Thursday, September 1, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The federal government has bungled the job of quickly helping the multitudes of hungry, thirsty and desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina, former top federal, state and local disaster chiefs said Wednesday.

The experts, including a former Bush administration disaster response manager, said the government wasn't prepared, scrimped on storm spending and shifted its attention from dealing with natural disasters to fighting terrorism.

The disaster preparedness agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was enveloped by the new Department of Homeland Security with a new mission aimed at responding to the attacks of al Qaeda.

"What you're seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels," said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA's disaster response chief. "All three levels have been weakened. They've been weakened by diversion into terrorism."

But Bush administration officials said they're proud of their efforts. Their first response emphasized rooftop rescues over providing food and water for already safe victims.

"We are extremely pleased with the response of every element of the federal government (and) all of our federal partners have made to this terrible tragedy," Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

The agency has more than 1,700 truckloads of water, meals, tents, generators and other supplies ready to go in, Chertoff said. Federal health officials have started setting up at least 40 medical shelters. The Coast Guard reports rescuing more than 1,200 people.

But coastal residents, especially in Biloxi, Miss., said they aren't seeing the promised help.

"We need water. We need ice," Biloxi Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Boney said. "I've been told it's coming, but we've got people in shelters who haven't had a drink since the storm."

The slow response to Katrina and poor federal leadership is a replay of the mishandling of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, said former FEMA Chief of Staff Jane Bullock, a 22-year veteran of the agency.

Bullock blamed inexperienced federal leadership. She noted that Chertoff and FEMA Director Michael Brown had no disaster experience.

Budget cuts haven't made disaster preparedness any easier.

Last year, FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans.

This year, the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens.

Funding for that planning was cut, said Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director.

"I don't know if it would have saved more lives," said Tolbert, who was the disaster chief for the state of North Carolina. "It would have made the response faster. You might say it would have saved lives."

FEMA wasn't alone in cutting hurricane spending in New Orleans and the surrounding area.

Federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana has been chopped from $69 million in 2001 to $36.5 million in 2005, according to budget documents. Protection for the Lake Pontchartrain vicinity in the Army Corps of Engineers' budget dropped from $14.25 million in 2002 to $5.7 million this year. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., requested $27 million this year.

In 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune newspaper reported.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri told the newspaper.

The Army Corps' New Orleans office, facing a $71 million cut, also eliminated funds to pay for a study on how to protect the Crescent City from a Category 5 storm, New Orleans City Business reported in June.

Further complicating the relief effort in Louisiana is scandal within the state agency. Recently, three top officials of Louisiana's emergency management office were indicted in an investigation into the misuse of relief money from last year's Hurricane Ivan.

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1 comment:

  1. Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

    I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

    Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!