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FEMA Official Says Agency Heads Ignored Warnings

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (right) speaks to reporters as former FEMA Director Michael Brown looks on, Sept. 9, 2005. Brown resigned Sept. 12 under intense criticism for FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (right) speaks to reporters as former FEMA Director Michael Brown looks on, Sept. 9, 2005. Brown resigned Sept. 12 under intense criticism for FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina.
A van stands on a flooded street in New Orleans, Sept. 9, 2005 -- 11 days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city.
Andrea Hsu, NPR /
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A van stands on a flooded street in New Orleans, Sept. 9, 2005 -- 11 days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city.

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."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.
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