Thursday, February 23, 2006

Meanwhile, In New Orleans: During And After Katrina, Kenneth Rapuano Was In Charge At The White House

Now that the ridiculous distraction over Dick Cheney's gunplay is over, maybe real issues like disaster response will no longer be shoved to the side.

Who is Kenneth Rapuano? He was the only White House staffer not on vacation as Katrina barreled on shore and battered New Orleans, but he was at home in bed asleep as disaster reports at the White House grew morbid. Here's a portion of the account from the February 27 Newsweek:
[On Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, as Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans,] at 9:51 [p.m.], [FEMA Chief Michael] Brown received an e-mail from White House chief of staff Andy Card, who told him he had been kept "well-informed about your reports. Anything you want me to do??" Brown replied, "Thanks for writing, Andy. This is a bad one. Housing, transportation and environment could be long term issues."

Card may have been concerned, but he wasn't in a position to be of much help. Like President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and homeland-security adviser Frances Townsend, Card was on vacation when the hurricane struck. Back at the White House, the job of monitoring the storm was left to Kenneth Rapuano, Townsend's deputy. At 10 p.m., Rapuano left the White House to go home for the night, believing everything was under control.

It wasn't. Half an hour later, at 10:30 p.m., the Homeland Security Operations Center sent out a two-page bulletin reporting massive flooding and bodies floating in the water. Rapuano later told Congress that no one at the White House woke him to tell him about the report, and he didn't realize the extent of the damage until 6 the following morning, when another Homeland bulletin warned that "it could take months to dewater" the city. Only then did it begin to dawn on top administration officials, including the president, how grave a human—and political—disaster they were facing.

Six months later, there still isn't a clear account of what Bush and his top aides were doing in the hours and days after the levees crumbled and the misery set in. The prolonged confusion is partly explained by the White House's refusal to turn over many of the records and e-mails requested by the Senate and a special House committee investigating the fiasco.
Maybe we should be lowering future expectations on the safety and security front with this White House.

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