FEMA Chief Worried About Dinner While New Orleans Starved

As part of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees investigation into the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina, Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman today held a hearing where they heard testimony from the first FEMA official in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Marty Bahamonde, a 12-year career FEMA employee, was in New Orleans before, during, and after the Hurricane and spent two nights in the Superdome along with evacuees. He provided testimony offering a first-hand account of the horrible conditions in the Superdome, as well as information about his communications between FEMA officials in Washington and outside of New Orleans.

The following e-mail exchange excerpts (from the hearing exhibits – PDF) is emblematic of the disconnect between FEMA staff on the ground in the Gulf Coast region and headquarters.

Bahamonde, the first agency official to arrive in New Orleans in advance of the Aug. 29 storm, sends a dire message to FEMA Director Michael Brown about deteriorating conditions at the Superdome – a message which Brown ignores. Just a few hours later Brown’s press secretary has a critical message of her own that has to be seen to be believed.

From: Marty Bahamonde
To: Michael Brown
Sent: Aug. 31, 11:20 a.m
Subject: New orleans

Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know.
Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes.
The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.

From: Sharon Worthy (Brown’s press secretary)
Cc: Cindy Taylor (FEMA deputy director of public affairs)
Sent: Aug. 31, 2:00 p.m.
Subject: FW: Scarborough

“…Also, it is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner. Gievn [sic] that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more that [sic] 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise [sic], followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc.

From: Marty Bahamonde
To: Cindy Taylor
Sent: Aug. 31, 2:44 p.m.
Subject: Re: Scarborough

“OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! No won’t go any further, too easy of a target. Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants. Maybe tonight I will have time to move my pebbles on the parking garage floor so they don’t stab me in the back while I try to sleep.

Note: The messages are in chronological order (as shown in the PDF starting at Exhibit 17). The message from Worthy to Taylor was part of a message Taylor sent to Bahamonde, presumably to show how disconnected headquarters folks were from the situation Bahamonde was living and describing…

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