Knight Ridder Investigation into Federal Katrina Response Continues

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By: E&P Staff

Continuing to dig deep into responsibility for the poor federal response to the hurricane disaster, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported today that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff flew to Atlanta for a previously scheduled briefing on avian flu on the morning after the storm swept ashore.

In fact, KR reporters Shannon McCaffrey, Alison Young, and Seth Borenstein reveal that Chertoff didn’t know for sure that New Orleans’ life-preserving levees had failed until a full day had passed.

“In the relative scheme of things it (avian flu) needed to be put on the back burner while New Orleans was going under water,” said John Copenhaver, a southeastern regional FEMA director under the Clinton administration. The Knight Ridder reporters point out that only 59 people, worldwide, have died from avian flu.

?Chertoff’s decision to fly to Georgia for a business-as-usual briefing even as residents in New Orleans fought for their lives in rising floodwaters raises new questions about how much top officials knew about what was happening on the Gulf Coast and how focused they were on the unfolding tragedy,? they observe. ?Not until Chertoff was returning from Atlanta on Aug. 30 did he begin writing the memo that declared Katrina ‘an incident of national significance’ and put the full force of the federal government behind the relief and rescue efforts?.

?Chertoff’s team was unable to confirm until midday on Aug. 30 that the levees had breached even though the flooding was being widely reported on television beginning that morning and officials in Louisiana first reported those breaches in the early morning hours of Monday, Aug. 29.?

The reporters add: ?Stung by criticism, Chertoff’s aides this week attempted to downplay his importance in managing the disaster relief, saying that former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown was in charge. Brown resigned this week amid intense criticism about the sluggish and meager initial response to Katrina.?

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