Friday, March 03, 2006


"We heard a report unconfirmed, I think"

Louisiana Gov. Stung By New Katrina Prep Video
Gov. Blanco Gave Wrong Information To White House


WASHINGTON -- As Hurricane Katrina loomed over the Gulf Coast, federal and state officials agonized over the threat to levees and lives. Hours after the catastrophic storm hit, Louisiana's governor believed New Orleans' crucial floodwalls were still intact.

"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said shortly after noon on Aug. 29 - the day the storm hit the Gulf coast.

"We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee," she said on a video of the day's disaster briefing that was obtained Thursday night by The Associated Press. "I think we have not breached the levee at this time."

In fact, the National Weather Service received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9:12 a.m. that day, according to the White House's formal recounting of events the day Katrina struck.

In the Aug. 29 video, Blanco is not shown in the video but is heard as a disembodied voice speaking from an emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, La., to 11 people sitting around a table at the FEMA headquarters in Washington. She sounds uncertain about the reliability of her information and cautioned that the situation "could change."

Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said Thursday that "our people on the ground were telling us that there could be overtopping and breaching, but it was hard to tell" by the noon briefing.

The video shows weather forecasters predicting the storm's path and also briefly cuts to White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin asking Blanco about the status of the levees and the situation at the Superdome in New Orleans.

By that time, an estimated 15,000 evacuees had gathered at the stadium, where food and water was beginning to run out, said Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana's emergency preparedness deputy director. Smith also reported up to 10 feet of flooding in neighboring St. Bernard Parish and that there were 45 patients on life-support at one area hospital that lost its power.

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