Friday, October 21, 2005

Mr. Brown, Your Table’s Ready

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The only FEMA employee to ride out Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans painted a grim portrait Thursday of an agency led by officials who were unprepared for the scope of the disaster and failed to respond to his increasingly desperate pleas for help.

Marty Bahamonde’s emotional testimony, backed by e-mails he sent from New Orleans as floodwaters engulfed much of the city, was the most detailed eyewitness account yet from a FEMA official of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of the disaster.

A veteran public affairs officer, Bahamonde was FEMA’s only representative in the city from Saturday, Aug. 27, until early Tuesday, Aug. 30. Katrina made landfall Monday morning, Aug. 29.

Bahamonde contested former FEMA director Michael D. Brown’s late-September testimony to a House committee, including Brown’s account of the number of FEMA staffers sent to the city before the storm — “I was the only one,” Bahamonde said.

He was testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is investigating federal response.

He portrayed Brown, who resigned Sept. 12, as having failed to grasp the enormity of the catastrophe.

In an Aug. 31 e-mail that Bahamonde sent a co-worker, his frustration with Brown burst through.

Bahamonde had just learned, as he huddled in New Orleans’ Superdome with evacuees, that Brown’s press secretary was fretting about blocking out time for the director to eat dinner at one of Baton Rouge’s busy restaurants that night.

“OH MY GOD!!!!!!!” Bahamonde messaged the 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.”

As of this writing, Mr. Brown is still on the FEMA payroll.