12 September 2005

The Governor: now let's begin analyzing the Blame gain, fact vs. spin.

The Governor:
  • The day the storm hit, she asked President Bush for "everything you've got." But almost nothing arrived, and she couldn't wait any longer. So she called the White House and demanded to speak to the President. George Bush could not be located, two Louisiana officials told Time, so she asked for chief of staff Andrew Card, who was also unavailable. Finally, after being passed to another office or two, she left a message with DHS adviser Frances Frago Townsend. She waited hours but had to make another call herself before she finally got Bush on the line. "Help is on the way," he told her.
  • It never arrived.
  • Without any aides along, she and her husband made an unannounced visit to the Superdome the night before the storm and realized how desperate the situation there was becoming. The arena was teeming, its roof was leaking, and people had begun getting sick already and dying. "They were scared; they were upset. A lot of emotions were coming from them. Some were sick. They needed their diabetes medicine," the Governor told TIME. "What we were dealing with was a minute-by-minute life-or-death situation."
  • The Governor followed her responsibilities under the state's disaster plan to the letter.
  • She proclaimed a state of emergency; put the National Guard on alert; arranged to have traffic patterns on outgoing roadways reconfigured; made sure the parishes that were not at risk would have shelters and supplies for people from the ones that were.
  • Once an evacuation was ordered, she would have one more job, according to the state's official Emergency Operations Plan: "Request Federal Government assistance."
  • FEMA had guaranteed emergency evacuation transport for residents. Aid that did not arrive until a week late.
  • She came up with specifics for FEMA and DHS: 40,000 troops; urban search-and-rescue teams; buses; amphibious personnel carriers; mobile morgues; trailers of water, ice and food; base camps; staging areas; housing; and communications systems. Again it took a week to two weeks for this aid to arrive.
  • She depended upon Washington's word in how they would handle the situation: "She thought it would be more omniscient and more omnipresent and omnipowerful than it turned out to be," says one.
  • Recalls Tyson Bromell II, her rural-development director: "She pulled me to the side, and asked me, 'Where are all the buses they promised?' I said, 'We've been told not to send them (by FEMA), that there were already enough on their way.' And she just looked at me and said, 'Get those buses, Ty.'"
  • As for FEMA, Chiles later said ruefully, it "they have no clout in the initial phase ... You've got to loudly and strongly and with all kinds of paper tell the White House what you need."
  • Further tangling the post-Katrina disaster effort was a struggle for power. Not until Friday after the hurricane, as the Governor met with Bush aboard Air Force One, the President broached a sensitive question: Would Blanco relinquish control of local law enforcement and the 13,268 National Guard troops from 29 states that fall under her command? State officials say Blanco considered it an odd move, given that federal control would not in itself mean any additional troops and would prohibit the guard under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 from acting as policemen. And she thought the request had a political motive. It would allow Washington to come in and claim credit for a relief operation that was finally beginning to show progress. The WH press office said the same discussions" were under way with Republican Governor Haley Barbour of hurricane-ravaged Mississippi. However, Barbour's press secretary Pete Smith told TIME that "no such request" was made of the Mississippi Governor. Blanco asked for 24 hours to consider it, but as she was meeting at midnight that Friday night with advisers, Card faxed her a letter and memorandum of understanding under which she would turn over control of her troops. Blanco refused to sign it.
  • The signs of hard feelings between the White House and the Governor were hardly subtle. Blanco hired James Lee Witt, Bill Clinton's well-regarded FEMA chief, as an adviser -- and didn't discourage anyone from assuming that it reflected her feelings about the complete ineffectiveness of Bush's FEMA director, Michael Brown.
  • When Bush finally decided to make a second trip into the state last week, Blanco learned about it from the media -- and had to cancel her trip to visit evacuees in the Houston Astrodome.
  • Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana's congressional delegation have stood behind her.
  • FEMA was too slow in insuing contracts the for things like body removal that Governor had to bypass them and issue the contracts from the state.
  • Her fellow Governors, frustrated by FEMA's lack of response to their own offers of assistance to Louisiana, began trying to coordinate help through the National Governors Association instead of the White House.

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