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Friday, February 10, 2006

Looks Like Nero Had a Guitar This Time

The NYTimes is reporting that a FEMA employee notified the Bush White House on the night of Hurricane Katrina that the levees in New Orleans had been breached -- and that New Orleans and surrounding parrishes were flooding, with thousands trapped and fires raging all over the city.
As his helicopter approached the site, Mr. Bahamonde testified in October, there was no mistaking what had happened: large sections of the levee had fallen over, leaving the section of the city on the collapsed side entirely submerged, but the neighborhood on the other side relatively dry. He snapped a picture of the scene with a small camera.

"The situation is only going to get worse," he said he warned Mr. Brown, then the FEMA director, whom he called about 8 p.m. Monday Eastern time to report on his helicopter tour.

"Thank you," he said Mr. Brown replied. "I am now going to call the White House."
But no one seems to have told the President, who famously said the day after Katrina hit that New Orleans "dodged the bullet." And who continued on with his vacation, clearing brush, riding his bike, getting a new guitar...all the while, New Orleans was drowning...for days before the President seemed to get the message.

So either no one told the President what was going on in New Orleans -- or he knew and just went about his business without caring one bit about the disaster that had befallen New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf region.

I'm not certain which is worse.

The WH has a history of informing the President late in the game -- remember that whole plane threatens WH air space and the President keeps on biking incident? So, which is it: the President can't do his job, his staff doesn't think he can do his job, or he just doesn't want to do his job and has told his staff not to bother him when he's on vacation. You know, I hate to be harsh, but I can't come up with any...ANY...explanation that makes any of this even the slightest bit better. (PDB warning Bin Laden was going to attack in the US, anyone? Too bad Bush got that one when he was on vacation, too, isn't it?)

If you read the article, the staggering level of incompetence and poor planning at all levels is just painful to read, given that there was several days notice prior to the hurricane's landfall. But the federal government deficiencies were simply staggering. (Never mind that FEMA had previously done a practice run for just this scenario.) And the fact that we've had years...YEARS...since 9/11, and this was the best we could do with a disaster for which we had notice is terrifying.

Somehow, I think that terrorists aren't exactly the sort of folks who RSVP.

The one bright spot in the entire mess of an article is the way that the National Weather Service performed its duties.
Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the special House committee investigating the hurricane response, said the only government agency that performed well was the National Weather Service, which correctly predicted the force of the storm. But no one heeded the message, he said.

"The president is still at his ranch, the vice president is still fly-fishing in Wyoming, the president's chief of staff is in Maine," Mr. Davis said. "In retrospect, don't you think it would have been better to pull together? They should have had better leadership. It is disengagement."
Shameful. Try magnifying that level of dereliction and incompetence and failure of planning to the level of a massive biological or chemical or nuclear attack on a major American city...and see how truly frightening failure can be.

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are still struggling to rebuild. If you or I acted this way on the job, we get our butts fired faster than you can say "people died on your watch."

UPDATE: Heckuva Job Brownie is testifying before Congress on C-Span at the moment, in case you want to watch. (Thanks to Wilson for the head's up.)