Friday, October 21

FEMA and the Telltale E-mail

FEMA official Marty Bahamonde (CBS)

In the midst of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina Federal Emergency Management Agency official Marty Bahamonde, who was in New Orleans and recently testified before Congress, sent a dire e-mail to Director Michael Brown saying victims had no food and were dying.

Seattle Times: On Aug. 31, Bahamonde e-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that "estimates are many will die within hours."

"Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical," Bahamonde wrote. "The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out."

No response came from Brown.

A short time later, Brown's press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote to colleagues, in an e-mail containing numerous misspellings, to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. "He needs much more that 20 or 30 minutes," Worthy wrote.

"Restaurants are getting busy," she said. "We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise, followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you."

"OH MY GOD!!!!!!!" Bahamonde messaged a co-worker. "I just ate an MRE [military rations] and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants."

On the morning of Aug. 29, Bahamonde said, he alerted Brown's assistant to the "worst possible news" for New Orleans: that the hurricane had carved a 20-foot breach in the 17th Avenue Canal levee.

Five FEMA aides were e-mailed Bahamonde's report of "water flow 'bad' " from the broken levees designed to hold back Lake Pontchartrain. Bahamonde said he called Brown personally that evening to warn that 80 percent of New Orleans was under water and that he had photographed what was by then a 200-foot-wide breach.

"He just said, 'Thank you,' and that he was going to call the White House," Bahamonde said.

"FEMA headquarters knew at 11 o'clock. Mike Brown knew at 7 o'clock. Most of FEMA's operational staff knew by 9 o'clock that evening. I don't know where that information went," Bahamonde said.

Michael Brown,
former director of FEMA
The e-mails were made public Thursday at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing featuring Marty Bahamonde, the first agency official to arrive in New Orleans in advance of the Aug. 29 storm. The hurricane killed more than 1,200 people and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate.

Bahamonde said the correspondence illustrates the government's failure to grasp what was happening.

''There was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation,'' Bahamonde testified. ``The leadership from top down in our agency is unprepared and out of touch.''

The 19 pages of internal FEMA e-mails show Bahamonde gave regular updates to people in contact with Brown as early as Aug. 28, the day before Katrina made landfall. They appear to contradict Brown, who has said he was not fully aware of the conditions until days after the storm hit. Brown quit after being recalled from New Orleans amid criticism of his work.
Among the many abbreviations in the exchanges include M.R.E. for ready to eat meal and DMAT for Disaster Medical Assistance Team and NDMS, which is for the National Disaster Medical System. US stands for Under Secretary, referring to former FEMA director Michael Brown. Mr. Bahamnode has worked for FEMA for 12 years, although he has only been with the agency full time since 2002.

FEMA Emails 1

FEMA Emails 2

CBSNews: Orr reports that Bahamonde, who spent two days himself in the squalid conditions of the Superdome, denied ever telling Brown the shelter of last resort was prepared for thousands of evacuees.

"I couldn't have been any more clear to him that food and water was a desperate situation at the Superdome," Bahamonde said.

This information means of course, that Brownie Lied To Congress :

From Bayou Buzz:

Brown denied he was inexperienced for the job. "I´ve overseen over 150 presidentially declared disasters. I know what I´m doing, and I think I do a pretty darn good job of it," Brown said. Brown in his opening statement said he had made several "specific mistakes" in dealing with the storm, and listed two. The most striking was "I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn´t pull that off."

From Deseret News:

"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday (Aug. 27) that Louisiana was dysfunctional," he told the committee. The storm struck the Gulf Coast two days later on Aug. 29, causing widespread damage and at least 1,000 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In his testimony, Brown strongly defended his experience in disaster management and challenged the "Keystone Kops" image of FEMA that has emerged.
"I've overseen more than 150 presidentially declared disasters — I know what I'm doing," he told the panel. "The people of FEMA are tired of being beat up, and they don't deserve it."

Brown said that before the hurricane struck he had raised red flags at the highest levels, alerting President Bush and White House chief of staff Andy Card that Katrina had the potential to be disastrous.

He blamed the Department of Homeland Security, which controls FEMA's budgets, for failing to buy sufficient emergency communications gear before the storm struck.
Brown described FEMA as a politically powerless arm of Homeland Security, which he said had siphoned more than $77 million from his agency over the past three years. Additionally, he said Homeland Security cut FEMA budget requests — including one for hurricane preparedness — before they were ever presented to Congress.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan, asked about Bush's reaction to Brown's testimony, said, "Washington tends to focus on finger-pointing. The president is focused on problem solving."

Brown's testimony, which was largely boycotted by Democratic House members seeking an independent commission to investigate the governmental failures, sparked angry responses from members of both parties. At several points, Brown turned red in the face and slapped the table in front of him.

"I find it absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr. Brown, laying the blame for FEMA's failings at the feet of the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans," said Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., whose district includes portions of New Orleans that were damaged by the floods.

Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., chided Brown. "I'm happy you left. . . . You weren't capable to do the job," Shays said.

Brown replied, "I take great umbrage to that comment, congressman."
In one heated exchange, Brown told Shays, "I guess you want me to be this superhero that is going to step in there and suddenly take everybody out of New Orleans."

Shays shot back, "No, what I wanted you to do was do your job of coordinating."
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said that Brown had stood by as chaos reigned, local disaster relief agencies were overwhelmed and bodies piled up.
Brown angrily wagged his finger at Taylor. "I don't need you to lecture me about death and destruction," Brown said. "I know how much people suffer. And it breaks my heart. I pray for these people every night. So don't lecture me about knowing what disaster is like."

It may have broken his heart, but apparently it didn't

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