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Bush's Katrina statement contradicted by emerging evidence

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Recently emerging evidence seems to contradict a statement by United States President George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina. He stated in an interview with ABC on September 1st that, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees".

One of the first items to emerge, a video obtained by the Associated Press, shows footage of Bush during a video-conference received at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on August 29, 2005, 19 hours before landfall of Hurricane Katrina. During the briefing, Director of the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield warned, "I don't think anyone can tell you with any confidence right now whether levees will be topped or not, but there is obviously a very, very great concern".

In addition, Michael D. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), reported that he had spoken with President Bush twice in the morning and that the president was asking about reports that the levees had been breached.

Brown would state later on CNN that, "There's no question in my mind he probably had those reports (about breaches in the levees), because we were feeding in the Homeland Security Operations Center, into the White House sit room, all of the information that we were getting. So he had to have had that information. Plus, I think the president knew from our earlier conversations that that was one of my concerns, that the levees could actually breach".[1]

In July 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency completed an exercise called "Hurricane Pam", which, dealt with the scenario of a direct hit on New Orleans by a hurricane with 120 mph winds (a Category 3). It resulted in "10 to 20 feet of water within the City of New Orleans," according to January 24 congressional testimony by the president of the company that designed the Hurricane Pam exercise.[2]

A report FEMA sent to the White House Situation Room on August 29th, they cited death and destruction anticipated by the "Hurricane Pam" exercise and warned that Katrina was likely to be worse. "Exercise projection is exceeded by Hurricane Katrina real-life impacts," they stated. Furthermore, "The potential for severe storm surge to overwhelm Lake Pontchartrain levees is the greatest concern for New Orleans. Any storm rated Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson (hurricane) scale will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching. This could leave the New Orleans metro area submerged for weeks or months".[3]

When the report was released, Hurricane Katrina was thought to be a Category 4 as of landfall (though after analysis, it's power at landfall would be downgraded to a Category 3).[4]

White House officials previously clarified Bush's earlier comment, saying that the president was referring to the hours after Katrina swept through and news reports as of August 30th suggested the city had "dodged a bullet", which led to surprise when reports reached them of the levee breaches.[5][6] Contrasting this was the August 30th broadcast of NBC's Today, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported at 7:05 a.m. ET, "There has been a huge development overnight ... the historic French Quarter, dry last night and it is now filling with water. This is water from nearby Lake Pontchartrain; the levees failed overnight."[7]

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