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US Government ignored its own Katrina plans, DHS documents show

Press Esc | June 28, 2007

The US Government had made a plan to respond to a hurricane of Katrina's magnitude and but failed to implement that plan when disaster struck, documents obtained from Department of Homeland Security show.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) report Best Laid Plans: The Story of How the Government Ignored Its Own Gulf Coast Hurricane Plans documents how the FEMA had created a “Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Plan” (SLCHP), which forecast a range of specific consequences.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests to DHS and subsequent legal action show that FEMA forecast New Orleans would be flooded with 14-17 feet of water and the levee system inundated with at least 10 feet of water and the hurricane would move into Mississippi.

FEMA had predicted that one million people would evacuate, but flooding would trap at least 250-350,000, and each hurricane victim would require a minimum of two Meals Ready to Eat, one gallon of water and eight pounds of ice per day.

The SLCHP included plans to evacuate residents and position resources pre-hurricane, provide power, water and ice to hurricane victims and provide short-term shelter and longer-term temporary housing.

Post-Katrina FEMA documents demonstrate that the plan was never implemented.

On August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina hit, FEMA Deputy Director Patrick Rhode sent an email to Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks Altshuler and Michael Heath, Special Assistant to FEMA Director Michael Brown, with the subject line, “copy of New Orleans cat plan” stating, “I never got one – I think Brown got my copy – did you get one?”

CREW also found that the catastrophe was impacted by significant funding cuts to federal flood control and the Army Corps of Engineers budget for hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain region.

Communications problems between key personnel that impeded coordination of overall relief efforts, and lack of a mechanism for fielding and distributing donations and offers of assistance also hampered the relief effort.

“The next national emergency -- whether another natural disaster or a terrorist attack -- undoubtedly will require both adequate preparation and competent execution; based on the findings in this report, what confidence can the American people have that our government will be ready to face those challenges?” Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director questioned.

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