Newly leaked memos are showing that FEMA waited five hours after Hurricane Katrina had struck New Orleans before requesting help to be dispatched to the region. Even then Michael Brown, the director of FEMA–the Federal Emergency
Management Agency–said that the 1,000 Homeland Security employees could take two days to show up at the disaster scene. Brown’s memo to Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff politely ended, “Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.” According to the Associated Press, Brown’s memo lacked any urgent language besides describing the hurricane as a “near catastrophic event.” Brown’s memo told employees would be expected to “convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public.” While FEMA took days to send help, tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents were left without food, water or a safe place to stay. The memo was leaked as criticism of Brown increased. On Tuesday Democratic Senator Ken Salazar joined the growing chorus in calling for Brown’s resignation. There are also many, including former President Clinton, calling for an independent investigation into the government’s response.
Meanwhile President Bush announced on Tuesday that he will personally lead an investigation into the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. “If things went wrong, we’ll correct them,” Bush said. President Bush spoke with reporters on Tuesday morning. Bush had invited reporters into the Cabinet Room at 11:08 yesterday morning–seven minutes before Senators Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman had scheduled their announcement of a Senate investigation into the response.
In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered law enforcement to forcibly remove any residents remaining in the city. Fires continue to spread in the city and fear is growing over the toxicity of the floodwater. Officials have announced that they plan to temporarily take all corpses to Saint Gabriels, a small town once used as a leper colony. Mayor Nagin warned that horrific sights would be seen once the city is drained of the floodwater. He said, “It’s going to be awful and it’s going to wake the nation up again.”
60 percent of New Orleans remains flooded. Officials are estimating that as many as 160,000 homes had been submerged or destroyed. Over 300,000 households in Louisiana alone have registered with FEMA for temporary housing and other forms of disaster relief. 145,000 people are staying in Red Cross shelters spread across 41 states. The vast majority are being sheltered in Texas and Louisiana. The Red Cross is also reporting that some 94,000 names have been registered on a website created to help people trace their relatives.
In environmental news — officials are warning that it could take years to restore clean drinking water in New Orleans. Mayor Nagin’s office said E coli bacteria had been found in the flood water, which is contaminated by sewage, dead bodies and toxic chemicals washed out of oil refineries, hospitals and other industrial plants. According to ABC News, flood water in the city’s Ninth Ward contains 45,000 times as much bacteria as considered safe for swimming. To make matters worse, 530 of the city’s sewage treatment plants remain inoperable. The Army Corps of Engineers has begun pumping the contaminated water into Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality told reporters Tuesday that there really isn’t any alternative to pumping the water into the lake or river.
Meanwhile the Guardian newspaper is reporting that New Orleans police have been unable to confirm reports of widespread violence in the New Orleans Superdome last week. For days news shows reported that a child had been raped, that babies had been killed and that bodies of murder victims had been found on the Superdome’s floor. But, according to a report in the Guardian of London, police have not been able to confirm any of these rumors. No witnesses, survivors or relatives of the survivors have come forward.
Reporters Without Borders has issued a warning about police violence against journalists working in New Orleans. According to the group, on Sept. 1 police threatened a reporter and photographer from the Toronto Daily Star at gunpoint because they were seen covering a clash between police and individuals identified by police as looters. When police realized the photographer had snapped photos, they threw him to the ground, grabbed his cameras and removed the memory cards containing about 350 photographs. His press card was also torn from him. When the photographer asked for his photographs back, police officers threatened to hit him. Police also detained a photographer from the New Orleans-based Times Picayune after he was seen covering a shoot-out involving the police. Police smashed all of his equipment on the ground
And the website TalkingPointsMemo is reporting that the former head of FEMA, Joe Allbaugh, may stand to profit from the catastrophe in the Gulf region through his various lobbying efforts. President Bush tapped Allbaugh to head FEMA after he served as Bush’s campaign manager during the 2000 election. He headed FEMA until March 2003 just as the U.S. was launching its invasion of Iraq. Then Allbaugh helped form a lobbying firm called New Bridge Strategies in order to help clients “take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.” New Bridge Strategies was also formed by several top executives from the lobbying firm then known as Barbour Griffith & Rogers. The head of that firm was Haley Barbour who is now the Republican governor of Mississippi. Earlier this year Joe Allbaugh signed on as a lobbyist for Halliburton subsidiary KBR in order to “educate the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief and homeland security issues.” Just last week the federal government announced that Halliburton would be hired to repair the Gulf Coast military bases damaged by Katrina. And now the Washington Post is reporting that Allbaugh is also helping Louisiana “coordinate the private-sector response to the storm.”
The Senate has announced it will open confirmation hearings on Monday for Judge John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States. President Bush has tapped Roberts to replace the late William Rehnquist who died on Saturday. He is being buried today in Washington. On Tuesday his body lay in state at the Supreme Court.
In California, the state legislature has voted to allow same sex couples to marry making it the nation’s first state legislature to deliberately approve same-sex marriages.
In Iraq, President Jalal Talabani is claiming that Saddam Hussein has confessed to crimes during his regime. Talabani said a judge “was able to extract confessions” from the ousted leader. Hussein’s trial is scheduled to begin on October 19.
And in Gaza, Palestinian ex-security chief Moussa Arafat was killed on Tuesday. Arafat was dragged from his Gaza home and shot dead in the street by fellow Palestinians. The attack has been claimed by the Palestinian group the Popular Resistance Committees.