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saving someone from a carchaos at the convention centerline of cars and trucks leaving new orleans
What are the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina?  Are we prepared for other disasters in waiting?

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a volunteer at a shelter in Louisiana, I formed close relationsihps with several folks from New Orleans. They had lost everything. During our time together, we spent tireless days trying to get through to FEMA for disaster assistance. There were constant promises ... but nothing came through

I'll never forget the day FEMA showed up at the shelter. The FEMA entourage arrived with a massive news crew, promising immediate financial assistance to the evacuees. After the press conference, the news crew left, and the FEMA officials promptly announced they had no details on when financial assistance would arrive. I thought we would have a riot.

When the shelters closed, FEMA promised both funding and trailers for the evacuees.It has now been three months since the storm, and all the folks I worked with are still waiting. One individual I know has been calling FEMA every day since the storm asking for an update. When she can get through on the phones, she is told "help is forthcoming" and a trailer is on the way. Meanwhile, she sleeps in her home which is completely destroyed, which has no running water, no electricity, and mold covering all the walls. The shelters have closed, the trailers have not arrived, and funding for temporary housing in hotels has been retracted. So she sits ... and waits.

Katrina may be the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history ... but FEMA is definitely the largest man-made disaster.

C E
Portland, Maine

Dear FRONTLINE,

First of all, I must comment on the staggering ignorance of so many of the "Frontline" viewers responding here. To say that "only 1000 dead is a success," is indicative of the attitude the Cheney, uh Bush, administration has toward the general public (particularly if they are poor, and more particularly if they are African-American).

Second, if the city is underwater and has no working communications, how can city government respond?

Third, to our fellow victims on the Gulf Coast, there are a couple of things you may be forgetting here. Read the "14 Days" chronology published on this site. Five days (only 120 hours before landfall in Plaquemines Parish, LA & again in St. Tammany Parish, LA--not MS), Katrina is a depression off the Bahamas. The National Hurricane Center was initially predicting 2nd landfall (first was Miami, FL on Thursday) in the Florida Panhandle. All of the forecasts and discussions (what the forecasters are really thinking) are still viewable on the noaa.gov website, and show that as late as 11:00 a.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center forecast had Katrina heading toward the Northeastern Gulf Coast. So it is not surprising that Mississippi was evacuating first.

Not until the 5:00 p.m. discussion on Friday does the NHC finally accept a more westerly track toward LA. That's 5:00 p.m. Friday. 60 hours before landfall. Not 72 hours. Winds were still "only" 100 mph, and forward speed only 7 mph. At 5:00 a.m. Sunday, NHC was forecasting landfall 48 hours away. Katrina nearly doubled her forward speed from 7 to- mph on Sunday.

Although I evacuated well ahead of the storm -- and still experienced major traffic snarls -- I will confess that many New Orleanians had too much of a "big easy" attitude toward hurricanes. Too many near misses, Camille, Elena, Andrew, Opal, Georges, Lillie, Ivan; storms which either fizzled or veered ever so slightly east or west of the city, encouraged a feeling of invincibility for many.

Lastly, face it...for those of you living on the San Andreas fault, do you really believe the big one's going to get you? Why don't you move? Do you New Yorkers and Washingtonians really believe there will be a catastrophic terrorist strike on your cities? Why don't you move? What if after 9/11 the rest of the nation had said, "that's what you get for living in the financial center of the world; or for living in the capital city of the so-called 'great satan' United States?" Where is the compassion we showed you in your hour of need? Much of the entire nation of the Netherlands is 10-15 feet lower than the city of New Orleans. America should focus all efforts on duplicating their response to the 1953 floods.

Kevin Ashworth
Kenner, LA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Gen. Landreneau's assertion that he would do everything the same indicates his confidence of operating in the appropriatemanner that the "response" arm had been designed to do. The real failure is with the "prevention" arm. The degree of effort and equipment that seems to have been expected from the "response" sector is unreasonable. The infrastructure hadsimply not been attended to. Dozens of people knew exactly where the problems with the levees were. To ignore that and expect response services to pick up the slack is bizarre logic.

It was admitted in the program that no place is really ready to evacuate any better than New Orleans. Yet our infrastructures nationwide go neglected just inviting equally disasterous events in the future. If this nation continues to refuse to invest in itself, it will go bankrupt trying to plug up the holes.

David Boston
Tucson, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a reservist employee with FEMA since 1989, I must say that the Frontline program about the response to Hurricane Katrina was right on target. Tracing the agency's history from its inception through present-day was very accurate. Thank you.

Diana West
Joplin, Missouri

Dear FRONTLINE,

Communication is the key - 911 , Katrina and Rita showed how important connections to a real world data stream are.

Last week a new and revolutionary development occurred on the west coast - Sanswire launched a stratellite - http://www.sanswire.com/press/20051116.html this was a major event attended by FEMA and divisions of the Government. This maybe a solution to connectivety and communications problems that occur at all disasters .

Robert Coyne
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

Roy Salisbury of Rochester, MI writes:"If, as stated in the report, the "Pam" scenario was a good predictor of Katrina, and "Pam" predicted 100,000 people would be left stranded and (correct me if I am wrong) that 20,000 would die, why did the FRONTLINE report not compare how many were actually stranded and died (approx. 1000) in Katrina to the "Pam" estimates? Was it because the Katrina numbers were so low compared to "Pam" that one would have to label the Federal effort a success, and the biased conclusion of your report would have been undercut? Report the "Pam" and Katrina numbers; then compare those to the number of people who die EVERY week in traffic accidents. Do you still have a story?" Is Mr Salisbury aware that in the hurricane Pam scenario the levees broke DURING the storm and not after the brunt of the storm had past as happened with Katrina, when everyone thought that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet"? It seems obvious that had New Orleanians been trapped on their rooftops in one hundred thirty mile per hour sustained winds, the death toll might well have been in the tens of thousands.

Is Mr Salisbury aware that within the "Pam" scenario, hydrologically different RIVER levees are overtopped rather than lake levees? Does Mr Salisbury know that the death toll from Katrina is STILL RISING even as the "official" count of the dead is less than 1000?

Is he also unaware that more than 6500 New Orleanians including 1000 or so children are still unaccounted for? Has Mr Salisbury even read FEMA's own "Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan", which outlines the "Pam" scenario and specifically calls for the federal government to take the lead in the emergency response? It is an excruciating read given the later finger pointing and denials from members of the Bush administration. It is also freely available on the internet.

Why do people like Mr Salisbury always look for bias when their own conclusions are based entirely on unadulterated ignorance and show not only an absurd bias toward cheap political favoritism, but an indifference toward their fellow man?

Stephen Nielsen
Portland, OR (Formerly New Orleans, LA)

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

More about the 2004 FEMA-sponsored "Hurricane Pam" disaster planning exercise, conducted with local emergency managers, can be found in the "Readings and Links" section of this web site.

Dear FRONTLINE,

The interviews were enlightening as well as the insight into FEMA's broken structure. Strange how FEMA has done damage to both Bush presidencies. Some of Michael Brown's answers were, how can I put it, astounding: 'I don't want to point any fingers but...' And when he mentioned that he should have called in the army, I think we could all agree that yes, he should have. But that's hindsight, and we don't know all the factors behind such decisions. We do know that Mr. Brown had a dinner in Baton Rouge that couldn't wait, but you omitted those damaging emails.

The other horrifying factors about waiting to make sure they didn't upset the state's rights? not to appear Orwellian? filling out proper forms? I thought that was just misinformation I heard through the media. Have to agree with the mayor's take that everyone needed to stop being nice and get things moving. Waiting for the locals to tell you what to do typed in triplicate with every 'i' dotted? What is going to happen the next time there's a major catastrophy like this in an urban area near you.

Once the levees broke and so many people were affected, New Orleans was no longer dealing with a hurricane but with issues of national security. The federal response should have been stepped up immediately, and the president should not have been asking the governor if he could help, he should have been telling her he was.

One more thing, before, people wouldn't normally elect politicians on the basis of whether they can effectively evacuate a major city in two and half days. Guess we'll have new criteria now.

Diane Felber

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

A sampling of Michael Brown's emails -- released by a congressional committee investigating Katrina -- can be read in the "Readings and LInks" section of this site, accessible off the homepage.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your conclusion that the things began to improve once the 82nd Airborne arrived are inaccurate.Prior to the arrival of federal forces, over 11,000 National Guard Forces had already been deployed into Louisiana. The arrival of the 82nd and 1st Cav forces simply added to the overall military support. However, the National Guard is our nation's military first responders and their performance in Katrina was historic.

Pete Schneider
Pineville, Louisiana

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

It is true that the numbers of National Guardsmen from across the†country built up steadily in Louisiana throughout the week and that this was a†major help to survivors of Katrina. However, the only organization with†unified command and control, with large-scale logistics expertise and self- sustaining communications gear, and that drills together day-in-day-out is the†U.S.military. And when they brought those skills and assets to bear in†Louisiana towards the end of that first week, it made a very significant difference in the response to Katrina.†And while the National Guard is the nation's military first responder, there†have been, and will continue to be, catastrophic disasters that overwhelm even†the Guard and that's where the U.S. military will have to step in (within the†limits of Posse Comitatus). NORTHCOM was set up for this reason. And one of†the lessons that NORTHCOM drew from Katrina -- observing the response from the†military, the Guard and civil agencies -- was that we need a rapid-reaction†force within the military to provide logistics, communications and manpower to†deal with catastrophes.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I saw your show about Katrina tonight and I felt that the whole thing was geared to pass the buck. The mayor has never accepted any responsibility for the thousands of people who were stranded or the ones that died. He knew that the city was below see level and he had been warned of the danger. As I see it they were all just as happy to see the ninth distric wiped out, and so what if you lose a few poor people. It is no skin off of there nose.

Mary Hemli
ketchikan, Alaska

Dear FRONTLINE,

I used to respect your program, Frontline, until it became obnoxiously one-sided and liberal. This program, "the Storm," was one more biased show in the sequel of assaults from your liberal media against president Bush and his administration. Why did you not interview Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco the same way you interviewed (or practically harassed) the other officials? You made Clinton's appointee, James Lee Witt, look like a hero, and virtually pestered the others who worked for Bush. I guess you want us to conclude that only the Ladies' Man, Clinton, had brains to do his presidential job right. Please, mercy! Why do you insist in interviewing the self-proclaimed "genius" Richard Clarke as if he was some sort of prophet whom everyone has ignored? Please give us a massive break!Finally, please refrain from using the racial cards--every single time--in your programs. You have the point so hackneyed, insipid, and stale that it already stinks...Respectfully yours,Bill Pena

Bill Pena
San Antonio, Texas

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

We believe that the bias you see in our report is your own. We would like to point out that the president himself stated that the government's response to Katrina was inadequate. As the program showed, President Bush went before the country on Sept. 15, 2005 and said, "Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency." The president and Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, both agreed that Michael Brown be removed from his command a few weeks following Katrina, and Brown subsequently resigned.You are wrong in saying that correspondent Martin Smith did not interview Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco in the same way as he did FEMA Director Michael Brown. We invite you to read the transcript of the program, published on this web site, as well as read Smith's extended interviews with Brown, the governor and the mayor. They all were asked tough questions -- as well as many follow-up questions -- as Smith probed the reasons for the failures at the local and federal level. As for the performance of FEMA under director James Lee Witt during the Clinton administation, FRONTLINE is accurate in reporting that Witt turned the agency around under his leadership. Both Democrats and Republicans agree on this. And, as you saw in the program, there is a video clip in which President Bush in 2000 says, "I gotta pay the [Clinton] administration a compliment. James Lee Witt of FEMA has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis." Finally, FRONTLINE interviewed Richard Clarke for this report because as someone who has worked in the National Security Council in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administations, he is a widely respected expert on the state of the country's preparedness for either natural or man-made disasters. We are sorry you found FRONTLINE to be one-sided. Based on what we reported, we believe we were tough, but fair. Perhaps you will take another look (the program is being video streamed on this site) and reconsider.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I live in Florida and I have now gone through four (4) bad hurricanes beginning with Andrew.

I now am a police officer in a municipality that is well known as a tourist area. This city is on the east coast of the State. For all of the tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes that we now have lived through, I honestly don't feel that my city, county and State officials know any more now then they did during Andrew. I honestly feel screwed for lack of a better term, and watching The Storm on Frontline only rammed that feeling down my throat even more.

I dealt with FEMA during last year's hurricanes as I had damage to my home, and from start to finish, it was not only an laughable joke, but a frustrating experience. Luckily, I had minor damage, but if FEMA was like they were with such damage, I can only imagine how they are with catastrophic damage, such as Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

I feel that blame needs to be on the shoulders of Nagin, Blanco, Brown and especially Bush. Nagin should have evacuated his constituents by using all of those pretty yellow school buses that were left to become flooded as they sat parked and unused. He also , along with Blanco, should have used the federal money that was earmarked for the rebilding of the levees, for just that...the levees! Blanco should have demanded help from the Government. Unfortunately, if she had to hold Washington's hand to do so, then so be it.

Brown...well, I will never forget watching him on TV right after Katrina hit and hearing him say that he wasn't aware of any big problem in New Orleans. And Bush...why are people surprised as such incompetance? What more needs to be said on that? Hey, I am just surprised that we had ANY troops to send to LA and MS. I would have thought each and every one of them were in Iraq.

Every year, the City I work for, has several months of tourists things for weeks at a time. Hundreds of thousands of people attend these festivities. Prior to the first month of this, the police have to go through riot training. I have been with the City now for over 10 years, and each and every year, the department seems to be lost during the training. It isn't like we don't do this training every year. I equate this being at a loss thing to Government at every level, and frankly, I am so very, very scared.

Elizabeth Devlin
Pierson, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

In training to become a CERT (Certified Emergency Response Team) volunteer, we learned that it takes a minimum of 3 days for outside resources to arrive in a community when a major diaster hits. Therefore, each citizen, family, and local agency, must make a plan and prepare ahead for a worst case scenario. Finger-pointing and hand-wringing are not effective planning and preparing strategies. Although I appreciate the coverage for such important topics, FRONTLINE often seems over-anxious to find fault and put a political spin on major events. I wrote the following to express my feelings about the series of national and international disasters this past year:

This is a time for bravery, not blame; a time to cooperate, not complain; a time for citizenship, not cynics; a time for helping hands, not hateful hearts; a time for quiet prayer, not loud protest; a time for rallying, not reviling; a time for sharing hope, not shaming folks; a time for full support, not sedition; a time to understand, not undermine; a time for work, not a time for weakness.

Cynthia L. Hallen

Cynthia Hallen
Pleasant Grove, Utah

Dear FRONTLINE,

I currently work for FEMA in Louisiana and on reading the posts see that many of the people of the United States need to be educated in our governmental structure.

One glaring comment what that the federal government should have run over the local and state governments and jumped right in. Our system does not work that way. We operate under a federalist structure which means that the state has sovereignty. In other words, the state must request assistance from the federal government before the federal government can step in and do anything. Additionally, when the federal government steps in, this usually means that the military comes in as well. Do you really want your state taken over my military personnel and your state not have any say in the matter?

Federalism is why this country works.

Stephanie Homme

Dear FRONTLINE,

The Nation's Vital Infrstructure is what this Frontline story should be about....

The levee system to protect New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain was started in the late 1800's and early 1900's, and its base engineering was from what was known and physically possible at the time. What has been built after, is on top of those orginal levees, along with its poor soil and poor orginal concept, which to this day never have refelected reality. In goverment and scientific writings for the last 20 years, the inadequacies of New Orleans Levee System have been noted, and warnings issued... and it was ignored.

The costs of a proper infrastructure for New Orleans was far less than the costs will pay for this man made hell, and the costs of lives and the suffereing as a result are more than levees the price of levees made of gold.

James McLoughlin
The Woodlands, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I would like to compliment you on presenting the information you collected regarding the events brought on by hurricane Katrina. It was interesting to see how things have developed governmentally when it comes to this topic.

I didn't realize that Bush Sr.'s administration made FEMA a back scratching opportunity. Or that Clintons administration dropped the political favors, and put people in FEMA who where qualified and experienced at dealing with disasters, and disaster recovery.

I also find it interesting that Bush Jr's administration turned FEMA back into the back scratching political favor factory that it was in originally.Now I will give them credit for working through "9-11", however I find it interesting that the relatively newly founded "Department of Homeland Security" was set up post "9-11" to be a higher governmentally driven version of what FEMA already does. Sure "Department of Homeland Security" gives you a bigger warm fuzzy feeling when you hear it than "Federal Emergency Management Agency". But aren't they trying to do the same thing? Why (when you run out of gas) would you buy a new car, instead of just refilling the gas tank? From my point of view it would make more sense to upgrade FEMA so that it covers all the bases needed. Why spend 5 years developing something new to serve you better, when you can take something pre-existing, upgrade it, and in a 2 years (at most) and have what you need. It seems that all the Bush administration is trying to do, is make another misleading warm fuzzy name to add to there collection. (no child left behind act, clean air bill)

But what do I know? I'm only 21 ;)

Seth Rice
Westminster, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a floodplain management professional for over 20 years, I found your show "The Storm" fascinating (aired 11/22/05 in Madison, WI). I cannot remember ever hearing officials/employees from FEMA speak so plainly about their agency.

The interviews showed that there is plenty of blame to go around for the catastrophe called the 2005 hurricane season. However, I have to say that one group at fault was left out. I find it hard to believe that those residents who built homes or lived in the coastal floodplains were unaware of the risks they were facing. Did any of them attempt to reduce theirs risks? Did any of them consider not bulding in harm's way? What did they do to help themselves long before the 2005 hurricane season started? And most importantly, what will they be doing to mitigate their risks when they are deciding what to do with their damaged homes?

Miriam Anderson
Madison, WI

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posted nov. 22, 2005

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