- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Former FEMA Director Michael D. Brown for the first time is taking responsibility for mistakes made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which left thousands stranded without food and water for several days.

“I should have demanded the military sooner,” Mr. Brown said this week before a group of National Weather Service meteorologists.

Mr. Brown also said he failed to communicate the enormity of the disaster and waited too long to request assistance. When he resigned from his post in September, he put most of the blame on Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin.

Mr. Brown on Wednesday said he now has a different perspective on how events unfolded.

“I think it’s important to realize that all of us made mistakes. I still do believe that things weren’t working too well down there,” he said. “Let’s figure out what went wrong and what we can do to make it work better next time.”

Mr. Brown’s leadership and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response came under fire after the hurricane devastated the Gulf Coast Aug. 29 and killed more than 1,300, with 3,200 still missing.

Louisiana Medical Examiner Dr. Louis Cataldie yesterday asked state and local officials to scour 400 addresses belonging to missing persons in flooded neighborhoods in east New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

“It’s not just cleaning up, but helping all those folks who were displaced,” said Nicol Andrews, FEMA spokeswoman. “We’ve only just begun.”

“Everyone recognizes that the devastation caused by [Hurricanes Katrina and Rita] will take time to recover from, and we’re moving forward as expeditiously as possible, but FEMA intends to be in the Gulf Coast for the long term,” Miss Andrews said.

To date, more debris has been removed than what resulted from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 combined, she said. “It’s just going to take a long time; it was a big storm.”

That doesn’t satisfy Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who surveyed the damage during a congressional field trip last week.

“Although some progress has been made, bureaucratic delays have caused the recovery effort to be appallingly slow and inefficient,” Mr. Coburn said.

Bureaucratic layers of contractors have increased the cost of debris removal from $8 per cubic yard to $32 per cubic yard and the purchase of trailers from $19,000 to $75,000.

Environmental regulations also are preventing cleanup crews from disposing of abandoned flood-damaged cars.

“The inability of government officials to dispose of rotting and rusting vehicles is a microcosm of the larger problem,” Mr. Coburn said. “If FEMA and other agencies can’t decide who is in charge of draining fluids from abandoned cars, how can they be expected to rebuild an entire city?”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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