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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

POLITICS: FEMA Official Says Agency Heads Ignored Warnings

by Laura Sullivan

Morning Edition, September 16, 2005 · In the days before Hurricane Katrina hit land, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, FEMA Director Michael Brown and other top Homeland Security officials received e-mails on their blackberries warning that Katrina posed a dire threat to New Orleans and other areas. Yet one FEMA official tells NPR little was done.

Leo Bosner, an emergency management specialist at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., is in charge of the unit that alerts officials of impending crises and manages the response. As early as Friday, Aug. 26, Bosner knew that Katrina could turn into a major emergency.

In daily e-mails -- known as National Situation Updates -- sent to Chertoff, Brown and others in the days before Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast, Bosner warned of its growing strength -- and of the particular danger the hurricane posed to New Orleans, much of which lies below sea level.

But Bosner says FEMA failed to organize the massive mobilization of National Guard troops and evacuation buses needed for a quick and effective relief response when Katrina struck. He says he and his colleagues at FEMA's D.C. headquarters were shocked by the lack of response.

"We could see all this going downhill," Bosner said, "but there was nothing we could do."

National Situation Update: Saturday, August 27, 2005

State of Emergency Declared in Mississippi, Louisiana DueIn anticipation of a possible landfall, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared States of Emergency Friday. In Louisiana, New Orleans is of particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level.

According to Gov. Blanco, Lake Pontchartrain is a very large lake that sits next to the city of New Orleans and if the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city.

Robert Latham, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said evacuations of tourists along the coast could begin late Saturday afternoon, followed by mandatory evacuations of coastal residents on Sunday. The National Guard had been activated to help with storm preparations, he said.

The last time Mississippi or Louisiana saw landfall from a storm classified as Category 4 or stronger was in August 1969, when Hurricane Camille roared ashore with winds in excess of 155 mph, killing 143 people.

In the Gulf of Mexico, six oil companies operating offshore facilities evacuated at least 150 people as a precaution. However, most of those employees were described as "non-essential" to production, and rigs and platforms continued to operate.

At least 12 platforms and nine oil rigs in the Gulf have been evacuated -- a small portion of the 953 manned rigs and platforms operating there, according to the Interior Department's Mineral Management Service.

National Situation Update: Sunday August 28, 2005

Dangerous Category Four Hurricane Katrina Continues West-Northwestward But Expected To Turn Northward

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the North Central Gulf Coast from Morgan City Louisiana eastward to the Alabama/Florida border including the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect from east of the Alabama/Florida border to Destin, Florida and from west of Morgan City to Intracoastal City, Louisiana.

National Situation Update: Monday, August 29, 2005

Extremely Dangerous Category Four Hurricane Katrina Moving Northward Toward Southeastern Louisiana And The Northern Gulf Coast

A hurricane warning is in effect for the north central gulf coast from Morgan City Louisiana eastward to the Alabama/Florida border including the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. Preparations to protect life and property should be completed this evening.

Katrina is moving toward the north near 15 mph and this motion is forecast to continue today. A gradual turn toward the north-northeast at a slightly faster forward speed is expected later tonight and tomorrow. On the forecast track Katrina will move onshore the southeastern Louisiana coast just east of Grand Isle this morning and reach the Louisiana/Mississippi border area this afternoon. Conditions will continue to steadily deteriorate over central and southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and southern Alabama throughout the day.

Maximum sustained winds are near 150 mph (240 km/hr) with higher gusts. Katrina is a strong category four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Some fluctuations in strength are likely prior to landfall but Katrina is expected to make landfall as a category four hurricane. Winds affecting the upper floors of high-rise buildings will be significantly stronger than those near ground level.

Katrina remains a very large hurricane. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 230 miles. Recently, a sustained wind of 53 mph with gust to 91 mph was reported at Grand Isle Louisiana, and a wind gust to 71 mph was reported in New Orleans.

The minimum central pressure recently reported by an Air Force Reserve unit reconnaissance aircraft was 915 mb (27.02 inches).

Coastal storm surge flooding of 18 to 22 feet above normal tide levels, locally as high as 28 feet, along with large and dangerous battering waves can be expected near and to the east of where the center makes landfall. Some levees in the greater New Orleans area could be overtopped. Significant storm surge flooding will occur elsewhere along the central and northeastern Gulf of Mexico coast. NOAA buoy 42040, located about 50 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi river recently reported waves heights of at least 46 feet.

National Weather

Hurricane Katrina should make landfall in eastern Louisiana or Mississippi during the morning hours. Katrina reached category 5 status yesterday morning and remains a powerful hurricane. Some fluctuations in intensity are possible prior to landfall, but Katrina is expected to remain a major hurricane as it impacts the Gulf Coast. A storm surge of 20 to 25 feet is possible along and to the east of the center of Katrina. On top of the water level rise (surge), waves of 20 to 40 feet are possible.

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