Hurricane Katrina News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on Hurricane Katrina
The government doled out as much as $1.4 billion in bogus assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, getting hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and even a divorce lawyer, congressional investigators have found. The GAO concluded that as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in FEMA help to individuals after the two hurricanes was unwarranted. GAO provided lawmakers with a copy of a $2,358 U.S. Treasury check for rental assistance that an undercover agent got using a bogus address. The money was paid even after FEMA learned from its inspector that the undercover applicant did not live at the address. FEMA paid an individual $2,358 in rental assistance, while at the same time paying about $8,000 for the same person to stay 70 nights at more than $100 per night in a Hawaii hotel. FEMA also could not establish that 750 debit cards worth $1.5 million even went to Katrina victims. Among the items purchased with the cards: an all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation; five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games; and adult erotica products in Houston. FEMA paid millions of dollars to more than 1,000 registrants who used names and Social Security numbers belonging to state and federal prisoners for expedited housing assistance.
Mullen has a schoolteacher's kindly demeanor, so it was jarring to hear him say he suspected that the levee breaks had somehow been engineered to keep the wealthy French Quarter and Garden District dry at the expense of poor black neighborhoods...a suspicion I heard from many other black survivors. And it was surprising to hear Mullen's gentle voice turn bitter as he described the scene at the convention center, when helicopters bringing food didn't even land and the soldiers "just pushed the food out like we were in the Third World." I literally stumbled into the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He looked genuinely shaken, [saying] "this looks like the hold of a slave ship."
The dire conditions created by Hurricane Katrina may be confined to the Gulf Coast, but on paper the emergency is all over the country. President Bush has declared that Katrina-related emergencies exist in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Some, such as California, Massachusetts and North Dakota, are far removed from Katrina's wrath. Apparently it does not take much to qualify as an emergency.
Note: These "emergencies" also give the president extraordinary powers to curtail civil liberties.
The dire conditions created by Hurricane Katrina may be confined to the Gulf Coast, but on paper the emergency is all over the country. President Bush has declared that Katrina-related emergencies exist in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Apparently it does not take much to qualify as an emergency.
Note: These "emergencies" also give the president extraordinary powers to curtail civil liberties.
Despite a month-old pledge, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to reopen four of its biggest no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work and won’t do so until the contracts are virtually complete. A promise to hire more minority-owned firms also is largely unfulfilled. The no-bid contracts for temporary housing, worth up to $100 million each, were given to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. right after Katrina struck. Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush’s Export Council from 2003-2004, and the Shaw Group’s lobbyist, Joe Allbaugh, is a former FEMA director and friend of Bush. Charges of favoritism helped prompt last month’s pledge by FEMA acting director R. David Paulison, but now officials with the Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, say the contracts won’t be awarded again until February. FEMA promised to boost the number of contracts given to minority-owned businesses but in the last month the percentage has increased only slightly, from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent. That’s still well below the 5 percent of federal contracts normally set aside for minority-owned firms.
NBC's levee broke and Kanye West flooded through with a tear about the federal response in New Orleans during the network's live concert fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The rapper was among the celebs and singers participating in the one-hour special, produced by NBC News. West was not scheduled to perform; he was one of the blah, blah, blahers, who would read from scripts prepared by the network. West: I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, "They're looting." You see a white family, it says, "They're looking for food." And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. Parent company NBC Universal said in a statement, "Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks." West's comments would be cut from the West Coast feed, an NBC spokeswoman told The TV Column.
Though more than 4,000 Louisiana homeowners have received rebuilding money only in the last six months, or are struggling with inadequate grants or no money at all, FEMA is intent on taking away their trailers by the end of May. The deadline, which ends temporary housing before permanent housing has replaced it, has become a stark example of recovery programs that seem almost to be working against one another. Thousands of rental units have yet to be restored, and not a single one of 500 planned “Katrina cottages” has been completed and occupied. The Road Home program for single-family homeowners, which has cost federal taxpayers $7.9 billion, has a new contractor who is struggling to review a host of appeals, and workers who assist the homeless are finding more elderly people squatting in abandoned buildings. Nonetheless, FEMA wants its trailers back, even though it plans to scrap or sell them for a fraction of what it paid for them. As of last week, there were two groups still in the agency’s temporary housing program: more than 3,000 in trailers and nearly 80 who have been in hotels paid for by FEMA since last May, when it shut down group trailer sites. Most are elderly, disabled or both, including double amputees, diabetes patients, the mentally ill, people prone to seizures and others dependent on oxygen tanks. Of those in trailers, more than 2,000 are homeowners who fear that the progress they are making in rebuilding will come to a halt if their trailers are taken. Progress on renovations has been slow for many reasons: contractors who did shoddy work or simply absconded with money, baffling red tape and rule changes, and inadequate grants.
Note: For further reports on the amazingly unhelpful government response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, click here.
In the early days of September, as military helicopters plucked desperate New Orleanians from rooftops and Red Cross shelters swelled with the displaced, nearly 400,000 packaged meals landed on a tarmac at Little Rock Air Force Base and were whisked by tractor-trailer to Louisiana. But most of the $5.3 million worth of food never reached the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Instead, because of fears about mad cow disease and a long-standing ban on British beef, the rations routinely consumed by British soldiers have sat stacked in an Arkansas warehouse. Now, with some of the food set to expire in early 2006 and U.S. taxpayers spending $16,000 a month to store the meals, the State Department is quietly looking for a needy country to take them. No fewer than six federal agencies or departments had a role in accepting, distributing and rejecting the food.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina roared through South Mississippi knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline that sends fuel to the Northeast. That order...delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems. Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan said the U.S. Department of Energy called him [stating that] opening the fuel line was a national priority. Manager Dan Jordan said Vice President Dick Cheney’s office called and left voice mails twice shortly after the storm struck, saying the Collins substations needed power restored immediately. Callahan said energy officials told him gasoline and diesel fuel needed to flow through the pipeline to avert a national crisis from the inability to meet fuel needs in the Northeast. “Our concern was that...it would be a national crisis for Mississippi,“ Callahan said.
As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. "It's not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "It's when."
Emergency planners believe that it is a foregone conclusion that the Big Easy someday will be hit by a scouring storm surge. This watery "big one" will produce a staggering amount of damage. Yet, this doesn't necessarily mean that there will be a massive loss of lives. The key is a new emergency warning system developed by...Louisiana State University. Within 30 minutes to an hour after raw data is collected from monitoring stations in the Gulf, an assessment of storm-surge damage would be available to emergency planners. Disaster relief agencies then would be able to mobilize resources.
The National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center...forecast the path of the storm and the potential for devastation with remarkable accuracy. National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield also gave daily pre-storm videoconference briefings to federal officials in Washington, warning them of a nightmare scenario of New Orleans’ levees not holding...and flooding wiping out large swaths of the Gulf Coast. Mayfield also...personally called the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin two days ahead of time to warn them about the monstrous hurricane.
Defending the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued...that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur. But in fact, government officials, scientists and journalists have warned of such a scenario for years. Chertoff...said government officials did not expect both a powerful hurricane and a breach of levees that would flood the city of New Orleans. As far back as Friday, August 26 [three days before landfall], the National Hurricane Center was predicting the storm could be a Category 4 hurricane at landfall, with New Orleans directly in its path. The National Weather Service prediction proved almost perfect.
An Arlington-based Halliburton Co. subsidiary that has been criticized for its reconstruction work in Iraq has begun tapping a $500 million Navy contract to do emergency repairs at Gulf Coast naval and Marine facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root Services Inc., won the competitive bid contract last July to provide debris removal and other emergency work associated with natural disasters. KBR has been at the center of scrutiny for receiving a five-year, no-bid contract to restore Iraqi oil fields shortly before the war began in 2003. Halliburton has reported being paid $10.7 billion for Iraq-related government work during 2003 and 2004. The company reported its pretax profits from that work as $163 million. Pentagon auditors have questioned tens of millions of dollars of Halliburton charges for its operations there. Last month three congressional Democrats asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to investigate the demotion of a senior civilian Army official, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, who publicly criticized the awarding of that contract. Vice President Cheney headed Halliburton from 1995 to 2000.
Forty-nine people have been indicted in a scam to pocket Red Cross hurricane relief funds and more indictments are expected. Authorities said 22 people working for a Red Cross contractor at a call center in Bakersfield, California, filed false claims, and by involving family members and friends, brought the number of people under indictment to 49. Officials said they planned to widen the investigation. "Our investigation is going to be expanded to include other parts of California and other states, and there are thousands of claims made in other states," FBI Special Agent Javier Colon said. The Red Cross had safeguards in place after Katrina, but "they were not fully adequate," spokesman Steve Cooper said.
As Katrina roared into the Gulf of Mexico, emergency planners pored over maps and charts of a hurricane simulation that projected 61,290 dead and 384,257 injured or sick in a catastrophic flood that would leave swaths of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for more than a year. These planners were not involved in the frantic preparations for Katrina. By coincidence, they were working on a yearlong project to prepare federal and state officials for a Category 3 hurricane striking New Orleans. Their fictitious storm eerily foreshadowed the havoc wrought by Category 4 Katrina a few days later, raising questions about whether government leaders did everything possible...to protect New Orleans residents from a well-documented threat.
By all accounts, the group of nine was a religious powerhouse: Their ranks included rabbis, imams and ministers, including the man hailed by some as the next Billy Graham. But as of Thursday, seven of the nine religious leaders serving on a committee created by the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to disburse money to churches destroyed by Hurricane Katrina had quit their posts, claiming their advice was ignored. Departing members of the interfaith advisory committee say the fund's Washington staff disregarded their advice, cutting checks for Gulf Coast churches without properly investigating the institutions. "I've been in ministry for 30 years and I don't think I've ever resigned from anything. I'm a loyalist to a fault. But what's happened is unacceptable," said [Bishop T.D.] Jakes who was named one of the 25 most influential evangelists by TIME Magazine. Another committee member who resigned, said the Washington staff wanted the religious leaders to "rubber stamp" their decisions. "They had their agenda and that's unacceptable," he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is now run by political hacks appointed by Bush who know zilch about disaster relief. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," the president said to Michael Brown a few days before the FEMA chief was relieved of his oversight of the relief efforts. Brown, who reportedly doctored his unimpressive resume and didn't have a background in emergency management, resigned Monday. He had secured this plum job because he was a college buddy of his predecessor, Joe Allbaugh, who managed Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
The House Appropriations Committee has let go about 60 private contractors who made up most of an investigative unit that was auditing billions of dollars in government spending, including the $62 billion federal relief package for Hurricane Katrina. The investigators...were released during the past week. The shake-up — which leaves only 16 full-time employees in the investigative unit — comes about a year after the Appropriations Committee's chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., launched the Katrina review by saying the unit would "conduct a wide-ranging assessment and analysis of disaster spending." At the time, Lewis said the unit had a tradition of "comprehensive" reporting. It's unclear how the departures will affect the work of the unit, whose contract staff is made up of former employees of the FBI, CIA and other government investigative services. Some of them had worked for the unit for several years. Scofield said he could not identify the specific work being done by investigators because much of the unit's inquiries involve classified information. Established in 1943, the investigative unit has focused mainly on defense and intelligence spending programs.
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