Bush and his craven cadre sulk before the cameras, feigning innocence and ignorance, proclaiming that the unquantifiable levels of devastation and destruction wrought in the Gulf Coast was somehow unpredictable.
According to Bush and his apologists, no model or simulation could have possibly informed the federal government of the consequences of a massive hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast. The truth is, the horror being played out on TV screens worldwide was all but scripted. In fact, the devastation and suffering of the Gulf Coast was known and ignored by Bush & Co. for years.
A project chronically underfunded by the Bush administration, and which could have at least reduced the damage inflicted on New Orleans, was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Hurricane Protection Project (HPP). In fiscal year 2004, the Corps requested $11 million for the HPP, but Bush's budget allocated only $3 million. Likewise, in fiscal year 2005, the Corps requested $22.5 million for the HPP, which Bush slashed to $3.9 million. In sum, Bush underfunded the HPP project by nearly 80 percent.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the HPP was "designed to protect residents between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River levee from the surges in Lake Pontchartrain." The multi-decade project included the construction and enlargement of levees, as well as improving other protections such as floodwalls, including those along the 17th Street Canal. Because of Bush's refusal to properly fund the HPP, however, the Corps had to delay several construction and improvement contracts - contracts that the Corps characterized as "pressing needs." As a result, the Corps warned on May 23, 2005, that "two major pump stations" in Orleans Parish "are threatened by hurricane storm surges." The Corps further warned that "several levees have settled and need to be raised to provide the design protection."
It so happens that in 2004, FEMA conducted a simulation called "Hurricane Pam." Hurricane Pam was a hypothetical storm with "sustained winds of 120 mph, up to 20 inches of rain in parts of southeast Louisiana and storm surge that topped levees in the New Orleans area." Hurricane Pam destroyed between 500,000 and 600,000 buildings and forced the evacuation of more than one million residents. FEMA predicted that a storm like Hurricane Pam would create 30 million cubic yards of debris, as well as 237,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste. Notably, FEMA acknowledged that state resources were insufficient to operate shelters for more than 3 to 5 days following an emergency on par with Hurricane Pam.
At the conclusion of Hurricane Pam, on July 23, 2004, FEMA Director Michael Brown declared, "Hurricane planning in Louisiana will continue" and that FEMA would "polish the action plans developed during the Hurricane Pam exercise." Those action plans included methods for evacuating residents in harm's way, establishing a command structure with four areas of up to 800 searchers, implementing rapid immunization plans for diseases likely to be present following a major hurricane, and establishing temporary housing communities for displaced hurricane victims.
Regardless of false expectations about Katrina's power, Brown promised on August 28 that "FEMA has pre-positioned many assets including ice, water, food and rescue teams to move into the stricken areas." According to Brown, National Guard troops had already been deployed to Mississippi and Louisiana to "assist law enforcement in evacuations." Additionally, Brown assured the public that "FEMA's Urban Search & Rescue
(USAR) and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) are also staged for immediate response anywhere in the region." Immediate? Anywhere? In fact, it was days after Katrina left the Gulf Coast for dead before any of those allegedly pre-positioned assets were distributed. As for the National Guard, they didn't even begin to be deployed until September 1.
In what is perhaps the most glaring example of the Bush administration's malfeasance in dealing with Katrina's aftermath, on August 29 Brown ensured that no other agencies could fill the vacuum left by FEMA.
Watching as Katrina laid waste to everything in its path, and without a response from FEMA, fire and emergency services departments from neighboring communities attempted to respond to the Gulf Coast's cries for help. In response, Brown ordered all outside agencies "not to respond to counties and states affected by Hurricane Katrina" without first being requested and "lawfully dispatched" by FEMA.
Lawfully dispatched? Tens of thousands of people were suffering and dying and the Bush administration started a pissing contest over jurisdiction.
When FEMA finally did "lawfully dispatch" nearly 1,000 firefighters to New Orleans on September 5, it forced them to sit through 8 hours of training on such matters as sexual harassment. Once fully trained, the search-and-rescue and haz-mat certified firefighters and paramedics were finally ready to do their jobs and help those in need. Instead, FEMA relegated them to handing out fliers. Fifty firefighters were assigned to walk and stand, in full firefighting gear, next to President Bush as he toured devastated areas, spewing empty platitudes. His flight suit must have been at the cleaners.
Now Bush promises to lead the investigation into his administration's despicable mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Like the prior inquiries into Bush's handling of 9/11, the administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence regarding Iraq's WMD, and the administration's sanctioning of torture and abuse at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, it is assured that Bush will emerge blameless.
On paper, anyway.
Ken Sanders is a writer in Tucson whose work has been published by Z Magazine, Common Dreams, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, and Political Affairs Magazine, among others.