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10 Years Later — a Look Back at Katrina

10 Years Later — a Look Back at Katrina
(Stephen Van Horn-DPC)

By Wednesday, 26 August 2015 10:59 AM Current | Bio | Archive

A decade on, the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina continues to be debated in light of what was wholly seen as the government's slow response.

Federal Emergency Management Administration chief Michael Brown was the face of the federal government’s response to what turned out to be the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

But in an interview with me, Brown, now a successful talk-radio host in suburban Denver,  looked back at the disaster in which he was portrayed, fairly or otherwise, as a villain: “People have asked me for years What was the tipping point of Katrina? What I point out is that about 96 hours before Katrina made landfall, I was talking to Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. We agreed that the most important thing we could do to avoid what was probably going to be a full-blown crisis is to convince the governor of Louisiana [Democrat Kathleen Blanco] and the mayor of New Orleans [Democrat Ray Nagin] to evacuate the city of New Orleans as soon as possible.”

Widely criticized in the press and removed from his relief duties by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Brown resigned from his office on Sept. 12, 2005 — two weeks after Katrina was declared an “incident of national significance.”

He is, of course, best remembered for the much-mocked TV news clip of President George W. Bush telling him: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” (Brown later told me, “You know how many people ever called me ‘Brownie’ in my whole life?” and then held up one finger).

He underscored the fact that Alabama and Mississippi were both going to be hit hard by the coming storm, and that the governors of both states — at the time, Republicans Bob Riley and Haley Barbour — “both cooperated completely with federal emergency authorities and both avoided the crisis that gripped Louisiana and that we all remember most from Katrina."

Brown said there was plenty of blame to go around: “But for the fact that Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin dallied until the Sunday at noon . . . but for the fact they gave mealymouthed answers and wishy-washy words when we asked for action, and but for the fact they failed to act as Govs. Riley and Barbour did, we would not have had all those people in the Superdome.”

Brown was referring to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans that became the “shelter of last resort” for thousands of people unable or unwilling to evacuate the storm-struck city and the most lasting image of Katrina to the nation. The Superdome was finally closed for a year and cost roughly $185 million to repair.

Recalling how he had “Amtrak and all the major airlines willing to evacuate people from New Orleans to safety” and that Mayor Nagin “still had access to the city buses before [Katrina] made it impossible for them to move,” Brown maintained that there was a plan to “get all the people in New Orleans to safety before the worst happened.”

Blanco, who has steadfastly blamed Brown for most of the difficulties in New Orleans, chose not to seek re-election in 2007 and was succeeded by Republican Bobby Jindal.

Nagin won re-election in 2006, with two-thirds of New Orleans voters unable to participate because of Katrina-related difficulties.

In 2014, he was convicted of 20 counts of wire fraud and money laundering related to bribes from contractors dealing with Katrina and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

The former emergency management chief freely acknowledges “my mistakes, which led me to being a focal point of the media as we saw pictures of all those people in the Superdome. When I found myself asking the same questions — ‘Where is it? Why isn’t it being done?’ — after two hours, I should have gone out to the press, thrown out the talking points, and said, What needs to be done isn’t being done, and I don’t know why. But I’m going to find out.

“I would have had holy hell to pay and I probably would have been fired sooner instead of later. But it would have been right.”

New York Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer demanded his firing at the time, but Florida’s Republican Gov. Jeb Bush (with whom Brown had worked closely during Hurricane Charley in 2004) defended him.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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A decade on, the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina continues to be debated in light of what was wholly seen as the government's slow response.
katrina, jindal, brown, superdome
Wednesday, 26 August 2015 10:59 AM
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