Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Brown Waited While New Orleans Drowned

This late-breaking AP story offers a smoking gun that should make it impossible for President Bush not to fire Brown now.

According to "internal documents":

  • Brown waited until five hours after Katrina made landfall to request that 1,000 Homeland Security agents be sent to the region.

  • Brown's request gave those agents two days to arrive on the ground.

  • Then there's this money quote:

Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language.

Now, to be fair, the most catastrophic damage came when the levees broke, which happened after Brown's request.

But even before then, there was full-on catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. When Brown filed his memo, people were already drowning in New Orleans -- and more would over the coming days as the federal efforts recovered from their slow start.

But remember, it's not just New Orleans. The damage from the storm itself was catastrophic -- in terms of lives, property, and infrastructure -- in Jefferson Parish, in Plaquemines Parish, in St. Tammany Parish, in Washington Parish, and in St. Bernard Parish.

That's before we even mention Mississippi, where Katrina cut a brutal swath across the state from the Gulf Coast far inland, across tiny rural towns, all the way to Meridian.

There's one more vital point Brown flubbed. What were these 1,000 agents supposed to do?

Brown's memo on Aug. 29 aimed to assemble the necessary federal work force to support the rescues, establish communications and coordinate with victims and community groups, Knocke said.

Instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these employees would focus on helping victims find the help they needed, he said.

Before you help the victims, you got to make sure they're brought to safety. As has been well documented -- on all the stories linked in this post -- FEMA, under the leadership of Michael Brown, dropped the ball and time and time again.

FEMA failed to relieve overstressed and overworked first responders.

FEMA failed to get the brave rescue troops on the ground sooner. (They could have been plucking people from their rooftops on Tuesday.)

FEMA failed to identify all the locations devastated by Katrina -- failing to direct support, supplies, or rescue efforts to entires parishes and counties throughout the delta -- in some places until as late as this weekend, six and seven days after landfall.

FEMA interfered with and stymied local efforts to obtain manpower and supplies from non-federally controlled sources.

This interference and styming has happened once FEMA got on the ground in Louisiana. They point to the continued failure of FEMA's leadership.

The failures listed all track back to the long time it took the feds to establish a presence on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi. As FEMA director, Michael Brown had the responsibility to make sure the relief flights and food and water trucks ran on time. He failed.

For that, Mr. President, you should fire Brown now.


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