Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Blanco: FEMA Promised Me Buses -- But Didn't Deliver
Yet another nail in the GOP's preferred "it's all the locals' fault!" Gulf Coast narrative:
Blanco says feds pledged buses By MICHELLE MILLHOLLON email@example.com Capitol news bureau Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina raged ashore, Gov. Kathleen Blanco still wants one question answered. Where were the buses? Hours after the hurricane hit Aug. 29, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a plan to send 500 commercial buses into New Orleans to rescue thousands of people left stranded on highways, overpasses and in shelters, hospitals and homes. On the day of the storm, or perhaps the day after, FEMA turned down the state's suggestion to use school buses because they are not air conditioned, Blanco said Friday in an interview. Even after levees broke and residents were crowding the Louisiana Superdome, then-FEMA Director Mike Brown was bent on using his own buses to evacuate New Orleans, Blanco said. During the delay, misery and mayhem mounted in the Dome, thousands gathered in desperation at the nearby convention center, and Americans watched in shock as dead and dying New Orleans residents were broadcast on national television. The state had sent 68 school buses into the city on Monday. Blanco took over more buses from Louisiana school systems and sent them in on Wednesday, two days after the storm. She tapped the National Guard to drive them. Each time the buses emptied an area, more people would appear, she said. The buses took 15,728 people to safety, a Blanco aide said. But the state's fleet of school buses wasn't enough. On Wednesday, with the FEMA buses still not in sight, Blanco called the White House to talk to Bush and ended up speaking to Chief of Staff Andy Card. "I said, 'Even if we had 500 buses, they've underestimated the magnitude of this situation, and I think I need 5,000 buses, not 500,'" Blanco recounted. "'But, Andy, those 500 are not here,'" the governor said. Card promised to get Blanco more buses. Later Wednesday night, Blanco walked into the State Police Communications Center and asked if anyone knew anything about the buses. An officer told her the buses were just entering the state. "I said, 'Do you mean as in North Louisiana, which is another six hours from New Orleans?,'" Blanco recalled in the interview. "He said, 'Yes, m'am.'" It was at that point, Blanco said, that she realized she had made a critical error. "I assumed that FEMA had staged their buses in near proximity," she said. "I expected them to be out of the storm's way but accessible in one day's time." It was late Wednesday. The buses wouldn't get to New Orleans until Thursday. By then, many of the sickest and the weakest were dead or dying.Go read the whole thing. It's frightening.
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