Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina
By MARGARET EBRAHIM and JOHN SOLOMON
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 2, 2006; 1:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.
Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."
The footage _ along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press _ show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.
A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.
"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.
The White House and Homeland Security Department urged the public Wednesday not to read too much into the video footage.
"I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said, citing a variety of orders and disaster declarations Bush signed before the storm made landfall. "He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times."
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said his department would not release the full set of videotaped briefings, saying most transcripts _ though not the videotapes _ from the sessions were provided to congressional investigators months ago.
"There's nothing new or insightful on these tapes," Knocke said. "We actively participated in the lessons-learned review and we continue to participate in the Senate's review and are working with them on their recommendation."
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a critic of the administration's Katrina response, had a different take after watching the footage Wednesday afternoon from an AP reporter's camera.
"I have kind a sinking feeling in my gut right now," Nagin said. "I was listening to what people were saying _ they didn't know, so therefore it was an issue of a learning curve. You know, from this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware."
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