Federal government wasn't ready for Katrina, disaster experts say.
By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The disaster preparedness agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was enveloped by the new Department of Homeland Security with a new mission aimed at responding to the attacks of al-Qaida.
Last year, FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day hurricane drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans. Some 250 emergency officials attended. Many of the scenarios now playing out, including a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, were discussed in that drill for a fictional storm named Pam.
This year, the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens.
Funding for that planning was cut, said Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director.
Both the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper and a local business magazine reported that the effects of [Bush] budget cuts at the Army Corps of Engineers were severe.
In 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune reported.
"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri told the newspaper.
[I]n the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton.
Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.
A FEMA spokesman, James McIntyre, blamed the devastation in the region for slowing down relief efforts.
Roads were washed out and relief trucks were stopped by state police trying to keep people out of hazardous areas, he said.
That explanation didn't satisfy Joe Myers, Florida's former emergency management chief.
"I would think that yesterday they could have flown in," said Myers. "Everyone was flying in. Put it this way, FOX and CNN are there. If they can get there ..."