20 September 2005

Evacuation plan was supposed to be in place by FEMA, oops.

Money for evacuation plan went elsewhere...FEMA twice failed to give Congress plan to evacuate New Orleans

Congress ordered the FEMA to develop a plan for evacuating New Orleans during a severe hurricane, but the money instead went to study a causeway bridge that spans nearby Lake Pontchartrain, officials say.

The outcome provides one more example of the government's failure to prepare for a massive but foreseeable catastrophe, said the lawmaker who helped secure the money for FEMA to develop the evacuation plan.

"They never used it for the intended purpose," said former Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican. "The whole intent was to give them resources so they could plan an evacuation of New Orleans that anticipated that a very large number of people would never leave."

In Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, attention has focused on the inability of local and federal officials to evacuate or prepare for the large number of poor people who had no access to transportation and remained behind.

That possibility was one of the concerns that led Congress to set aside $500,000 for FEMA to create "a comprehensive analysis and plan of all evacuation alternatives for the New Orleans metropolitan area."

Frustrated two years later that no study had materialized, Congress strengthened its directive. This time it ordered "an evacuation plan for a Category 3 or greater storm, a levee break, flood or other natural disaster for the New Orleans area."

The $500,000 that Congress appropriated for the evacuation plan went to a commission that studied future options for the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said.

Sen. Billy Tauzin (LA) said he could never find out where all the money went. "They gave it to the causeway commission? That's wacky," he said.

Asked about any FEMA-funded plan, Mark Smith, spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said, "To the best of our knowledge we can find no information on this."

FEMA's parent agency, the Homeland Security Department, did provide $75,000 to print 1 million evacuation maps that were distributed this year for the state's updated transportation evacuation blueprint, state transportation spokesman Mark Lambert said.

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