March 1, 2006

N.Orleans mayor “shocked” by pre-Katrina Bush video

By Jeffrey Jones

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on
Wednesday he was shocked by video showing U.S. President George
W. Bush being told the day before Hurricane Katrina hit that
the city's protective levees could fail.

The tape contradicts the president's statement four days
after the hurricane struck: "I don't think anyone anticipated
the breach of the levees."

"It surprises me that if there was that kind of awareness,
why was the response so slow?" said Nagin, whose city was
devastated when the storm struck on August 29 and causing
massive flooding.

"I have kind of a sinking feeling right now in my gut. I
mean, I was listening to what people were saying and I was
believing them that they didn't know. So therefore it was an
issue of a learning curve.

"From this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware."

Nagin listened with headphones and watched an excerpt from
the video for the first time as reporters stood around him.

The tape shows Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael
Chertoff being told on August 28 that the hurricane could
trigger breaches of the levees that protect the city and
threaten the Superdome, which became a chaotic shelter for
storm victims.

The tapes were obtained by the Associated Press, which
played Nagin the excerpt.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are
fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we
will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our
disposal after the storm to help you deal with the loss of
property," Bush says in the video. "We pray there's no loss of
life, of course."


White House spokesman Trent Duffy said "the president was
fully engaged and involved in meetings on the response."

He was active in making disaster declarations, pushing for
evacuations and urging state officials to get people to move to
safer ground, Duffy added.

The Department of Homeland Security released a transcript
of an August 29 videoconference in which then FEMA Director
Michael Brown tells officials he had spoken twice, with the
vacationing president, once while Bush was at his Crawford,
Texas ranch and later on Air Force One.

According to the transcript, Brown said Bush was "very,
very interested" in the hurricane developments. "He's obviously
watching the television a lot and he had some questions about
the Dome. He's asking questions about reports of breaches. He's
asking about hospitals. He's very engaged."

The Bush administration has been heavily criticized for its
sluggish response to Katrina, which killed about 1,300 people
along the Gulf Coast and plunged New Orleans into anarchy.

The storm surge caused massive flooding that submerged
entire neighborhoods, some of which are still in ruins.

After watching the tape, Nagin said it looked as though top
officials, including Brown, knew the storm could be
devastating, that the Superdome roof was "a question mark" and
the military would likely have to be brought in to help.

"I'm just shocked," he said.

Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland
Security, said the video shows discussions that have been in
documents previously made public. "I'm not sure what is
shocking about this video. There's really nothing new or
insightful from it," he said.

Last month, a congressional report written by Republicans
said federal agencies were unprepared for the catastrophe and
quicker involvement by Bush might have improved the response.

At the time, Chertoff acknowledged his department was
overwhelmed by the magnitude of the storm but said it was wrong
to suggest he and Bush were unresponsive.

(Additional reporting by Joanne Allen and Caren Bohan in