Testimony contradicts former FEMA director

| Friday, October 21, 2005

A regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency told a Senate panel that FEMA officials did not respond to warnings about the conditions in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

The Associated Press reported that Marty Bahamonde, the first FEMA official to testify before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said that he gave regular updates to people who were in contact with former FEMA director Michael Brown as early as Aug. 28. He also testified that he sent e-mails directly to Brown.

But nobody responded to those updates.

Bahamonde testified that he had a conversation with Brown on Aug. 29 to tell him that the first levee had broken, and that Brown thanked him and said he would check with the White House.

This contradicts statements from Brown claiming he had no knowledge of the dire conditions until days later.

The AP said Bahamonde described the situation at the Superdome in numerous e-mails to various FEMA officials as early as Aug. 28, before Katrina hit. Bahamonde said he was surprised when FEMA officials sent even more evacuees to the Superdome later that day.

"I thought it was amazing," he said. "I believed at the time and still do today, that I was confirming the worst-case scenario that everyone had always talked about regarding New Orleans."

In his testimony , Bahamonde said that he sent a "dire" e-mail to Brown about victims in the superdome having no food and dying. Bahamonde said he did not get a response from Brown, but in less than three hours, Brown's assistant sent a message complaining to FEMA staff because Brown had only been allotted 20 to 30 minutes to eat at a Baton Rouge restaurant before making a TV appearance.

Bahamonde told the Senate panel that the problems did not end at Browns door.

"There was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation," Bahamonde testified. "The leadership from top down in our agency is unprepared and out of touch."

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