- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Government at all levels took an indifferent stance toward disaster preparations after the 2001 terror attacks, leaving the Gulf Coast unnecessarily vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina, and this “cost lives [and] prolonged suffering,” a House investigation concludes.

Finding fault with the White House down to local officials, the inquiry determined that authorities failed to move quickly to protect people — even when faced with warnings days ahead of the Aug. 29 hurricane.

The final report, written by a Republican-led special House committee, was obtained by the Associated Press last night ahead of its scheduled release today.

“Passivity did the most damage,” concludes the 520-page report by the committee led by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican. The panel was charged with investigating the response to Katrina.

“The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are,” the report said.

“The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina should disturb all Americans,” it said.

The House report is the first in a series of congressional and White House inquiries about Katrina failures to be completed. The storm left more than 1,300 people dead, tens of thousands homeless and billions of dollars worth of damage.

In Senate testimony last week, Michael D. Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, singled out the Homeland Security Department and Secretary Michael Chertoff as a muddled bureaucracy that slowed relief to the Gulf Coast. The White House and the department hit back, describing Mr. Brown as a renegade.

The House report also finds fault with Mr. Chertoff, saying he failed to activate a national plan for fast relief, and his department, saying it oversaw a bare-bones and inexperienced emergency-response staff.

It also concludes that President Bush could have speeded the response by becoming involved earlier and that he did not get guidance from a disaster specialist who would have understood the scope of the storm’s destruction.

“Earlier presidential involvement might have resulted in a more effective response,” the report found.

Outlining a similar show of delays, the report concludes that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin waited until too late to order a mandatory evacuation of the city.

Despite warnings of destruction from Katrina 56 hours ahead of landfall, the evacuation order came only 19 hours before Katrina hit.

Charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross did not escape criticism in the report, which found that they were overwhelmed by the size of demands, leading to water, food and other supply shortages and disorganized sheltering processes.

Some of the response failures dated to months and even years before Katrina struck, the report found. A lack of warning systems for levee failures delayed their fast repair, and poor communications equipment prevented federal, state and local emergency responders from coordinating their response.


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