New Katrina video shows La. governor assuring levees safe
WASHINGTON – In the hectic, confused hours after Hurricane Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s governor hesitantly but mistakenly assured the Bush administration that New Orleans’ protective levees were intact, according to new video obtained by The Associated Press showing briefings that day with federal officials.”We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco said shortly after noon on Aug. 29, according to the video. “We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this time.”In fact, the National Weather Service received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9:12 a.m. that day, according to the White House’s formal recounting of events the day Katrina struck.Critics have maintained the Homeland Security Department responded too slowly to the breaches, delaying repair efforts and allowing flooding to worsen. Formal reports of New Orleans’ levee breaches reached the White House by 6 p.m., and the administration confirmed the damage by the next morning, according to the White House’s recount.In the video of the conference call, Blanco appears uncertain about the reliability of her information and cautioned that the situation “could change.”Blanco said floodwaters were rising in parts of the city “where we have waters that are 8 to 10 feet deep, and we have people swimming in there.””That’s got a considerable amount of water itself,” the governor said. “That’s about all I know right now on the specifics that you haven’t heard.”The AP separately obtained video earlier from other briefings before the hurricane made landfall. That video showed U.S. officials warning that Katrina might breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers.Before the release of the latest video, lawmakers from both parties said the pre-Katrina briefing for President Bush and top administration officials raised new questions about government response to the storm that flooded New Orleans and killed more than 1,300 people.Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the earlier video “makes it perfectly clear once again that this disaster was not out of the blue or unforeseeable. It was not only predictable, it was actually predicted. That’s what made the failures in response – at the local, state and federal level – all the more outrageous.”The earlier video “confirms what we have suspected all along,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, charging that Bush administration officials have “systematically misled the American people.”Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California renewed their calls for an independent commission to investigate the federal response to the hurricane.The House and Senate have conducted separate investigations of the federal response, and the White House did its own investigation. House Democrats for the most part refused to participate in the House probe, insisting since last fall that an independent commission should be created to handle the probe.”I try not to get angry, but I am plenty frustrated that we’re not getting answers” from the administration, said Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., one of the few Democrats who participated in the House investigation. “If nobody was hiding anything, why did the committee not get the documents it requested? We need to use subpoenas if necessary to get those documents.”A spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who headed the House investigation, said there was nothing new in the videotapes and accompanying transcripts made public Wednesday.”Top federal, state and local officials failed to process and act on information at their disposal,” said David Marin, the spokesman. “We already knew that.”But Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, disagreed.”If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million,” he said. “Six months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the homes and livelihoods of millions along the Gulf Coast, the truth about what the president knew and when he knew it has come to light.”The earlier videotape captured a briefing, one day before Katrina stuck on Aug. 29, involving then-Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown, Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials.Five days after the briefing, with most of New Orleans underwater, Bush said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”Presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said Wednesday that Bush “received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was “completely engaged at all times.”The White House did not immediately respond Thursday to the renewed Democratic calls for an independent investigation.Vail, Colorado
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