Thursday, September 01, 2005

"I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees"

“I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees” – George W. Bush on Good Morning America.

Michael Scherer reports at (yes, you will have to watch that ad if you don't have a subscription):

Eric Tolbert, a former top disaster response official in the Bush administration, knew a calamity like Hurricane Katrina would be coming, sooner or later. And he also knew that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he worked until February, was not ready to properly respond. There were too few full-time employees, not enough contracts in place to provide assistance, and a lack of money to do proper pre-planning. The added burden of the war on terror, he says, diverted funds away from FEMA's core mission.

"FEMA had to compete and had to help finance the creation of the Department of Homeland Security," Tolbert, who now works for PBS&J, a private contractor, said Thursday morning. "They were taking chunks of money out of the budget. We always referred to it as taxes."

Last summer, for instance, Tolbert said FEMA staged a "tabletop exercise" in Baton Rouge, La., to gauge how well it would respond if a Category 3 hurricane hit New Orleans. Officials learned a lot from the role-play, says Tolbert, and then returned to their offices to create a new plan to respond to an actual disaster in the region. "Unfortunately, we were not able to finish the plan," Tolbert said. The funding for it ran out.


Of the $500 million requested for levees, pumping stations and new drainage canals between 2001 and 2005, only $249 million passed out of Congress.


The blame, [Tolbert] says, lies not with the local and federal officials who warned for decades of the coming disaster. It lies with those elected officials who refused to sign the checks. "The country deserves better than that," he says.

Read more at Salon.

UPDATE: ABC's nightly news is discussing this very thing right now: the clarion calls for action before it was too late; the failures to act.

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