Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Advance Warning

The White House had a detailed warning about the impact Hurricane Katrina would have on the Gulf Coast, and they got it long before the hurricane actually hit.

A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House’s “situation room,” the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document.

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina’s size would “likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching” and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.

In a second document, also obtained by The Washington Post, a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina’s likely impact to that of “Hurricane Pam,” a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.

The hurricane’s Category 4 storm surge “could greatly overtop levees and protective systems” and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted “incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)” and the displacement of more than a million residents.

The NISAC analysis accurately predicted the collapse of floodwalls along New Orleans’s Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, an event that the report described as “the greatest concern.” The breach of two canal floodwalls near the lake was the key failure that left much of central New Orleans underwater and accounted for the bulk of Louisiana’s 1,100 Katrina-related deaths.

The documents shed new light on the extent on the administration’s foreknowledge about Katrina’s potential for unleashing epic destruction on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and towns. President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm,” Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

So either the president was lying when he gave that interview to ABC, or he was so incompetently advised by the people who work for him that he went on the air without knowing what was coming in to his own Situation Room. In either case, this pretty clearly shows that all this talk about the president being the “strong leader in a time of change” is basically bullshit and for Karl Rove to go out there and claim that the Republicans are the only ones to trust when it comes to protecting the nation is another steaming pile. Big surprise.

It also reminds us that this isn’t the first time the White House has had an “eerily prescient” warning about an impending disaster: the August 6, 2001 PDB that said that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were determined to strike within the U.S. and using hijacked airplanes was one of their possible tactics. As with Hurricane Katrina, Bush was at his ranch in Texas clearing brush. The difference between the two is that while the PDB didn’t actually predict 9/11 and it would have required a degree of driving curiosity and prescience that has heretofore been demonstrably lacking in this administration to do so, anyone with a TV set that gets the Weather Channel or reads blogs (ahem) about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on South Florida would have known something was coming 72 hours before it hit the Gulf Coast.

After this news you kinda feel sorry for Mike “Heckuvajob” Brown, the former head of FEMA. He was the most visible symbol of the administration’s incompetence, but he sure wasn’t the only one.