Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina
By MARGARET EBRAHIM and JOHN SOLOMON, Associated Press Writers 26 minutes ago
In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, risk lives in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage of the briefings.
Bush didn't ask a single question during the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck on Aug. 29 but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."
Six days of footage and transcripts obtained by The Associated Press show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Linked by secure video, Bush's bravado on Aug. 29 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.
A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.
"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.
Some of the footage conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:
_Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.
"I don't buy the `fog of war' defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."
_Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility — and Bush was worried too.