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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Senate committee analyzes poor response to Hurricane Katrina

“We were abandoned. City officials did nothing to protect us.” said Patricia Thompson, a New Orleans evacuee, to the Select Committee in a hearing on Dec. 6, 2005. “We were told to go to the Superdome, the Convention Center, the interstate bridge for safety. We did this more than once. In fact, we tried them all for every day over a week. We saw buses, helicopters and FEMA trucks, but no one stopped to help us. We never felt so cut off in all our lives.” This quote underlies a picture of two distraught children, victims of Hurricane Katrina, in the 379 page version of the report “A Failure of Initiative: Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina” written by Virginia representative Thomas M. Davis III, member of the committee.

This report is part of the U.S. government’s ongoing investigation into failures in relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina. It is available for viewing at

The report presents findings of 90 failures by many different people and organizations in many different arenas in the rescue, relief and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

During an investigative Senate panel on Friday, Feb. 10, former head of FEMA Michael Brown testified that he warned the White House that disaster was imminent.

Brown blamed poor federal response to the disaster on Department of Homeland Security’s (which FEMA is a part of) focus on terrorism. Brown urged that FEMA be autonomous.

Brown said that he warned White House aides of massive flooding. He said that he talked with White House officials about 30 times once Katrina made landfall, stating, “Sometimes the president would get on the phone.” He also said that he spoke twice with President George W. Bush before the storm.

On Jan. 24, 2006, The Washington Post reported that it obtained documents supporting this statement.

The first document sited by The Washington Post was a presentation created by FEMA and presented to White House aides two days before Katrina hit. It warned that the storm surge “could greatly overtop levees and protective systems” and destroy nearly 90 percent of New Orleans’ infrastructure.

The second document showed that the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC) sent a 41-page assessment to the White House after midnight on Aug. 28. The document warned that Katrina would “likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching.”

In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America on Sep. 1, 2005, President Bush said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm.”

President Bush was on vacation in Crawford, Texas, when Katrina struck. Also on vacation were Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr., Homeland Security Adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was fly-fishing in Wyoming. The day after he received reports of catastrophic levee breaks, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff traveled to Atlanta for a pandemic-flu meeting.

“I think Bush sitting on Trent Lott’s porch was majorly symbolic,” said Guilford student Menemsha Milnor.

Milnor is a part of a group of Guilford students and faculty who spent their Fall Break in Bogalusa, La., helping the Katrina relief effort. They spent their vacation hammering roof shingles, clearing yards and hauling away the debris – in 90-degree weather.

Max Carter, Director of the Friends Center and Campus Ministry Coordinator, led the Guilford group. “Katrina was not the first disaster to hit The Bottoms,” Carter said. He said it was obvious that the people who needed the most help were not getting it.

The people of Bogalusa told Carter that FEMA had not been to “The Bottoms,” the neighborhood the group worked in. Some residents stated that Friends Disaster Service was the only organization to visit the area since FEMA dropped off roofing tarps.

In March 5, about 30 members of the Guilford community will join the Friends Disaster Service (FDS) for another round of relief work during Spring Break.

Raleigh Stout will be returning to Bogalusa, La., on the trip. “I have been to Louisiana twice with Guilford community members for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief,” he said.

“I am concerned that while FEMA had operated efficiently before our 9/11 terrorist attacks, FEMA actually became disenfranchised from its core mission of serving Americans in catastrophe by being rolled up within the new Department of Homeland Security,” Stout said. “So my gut reaction is that I was not surprised to see FEMA getting the blame for slow action during Katrina.”

Guilford student Michael Thomson Harris said of the trips: “I’ve been on several of these work trips with Friends Disaster Service, and I find the work to be very fulfilling. You get to meet the people whose houses you’re working on, and you realize the difference you’re making. The sad part is that more groups like FDS are not pitching in. I didn’t hear of many other groups in Bogalusa, especially in the part of town we were in.

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