WASHINGTON – The head of the federal disaster relief agency said Friday it's "heartbreaking and very, very frustrating" to witness the virtual anarchy in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans (search ) and defended the Bush administration's response.
Interviewed on several network morning news shows, Michael Brown (search), director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search ), blamed emergency assistance delivery problems on "the total lack of communications, the inability to hear and have good intelligence on the ground about what was actually occurring there."
Brown appeared the morning after the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin (search ), charged that administration officials "don't have a clue" about what's going on in the devastated city that long has been among the nation's premier tourist attractions.
"People are getting the help they need," Brown asserted on NBC's "Today" show. "This is an ongoing disaster. This disaster didn't just end when Katrina left."
But Brown also acknowledged that little in the government's preparedness plan took into account the likelihood of lawlessness in such dire straits.
"Before the hurricane struck I came down here personally and rode the storm out in Baton Rouge," he said. "We had all of our rescue teams, the medical teams, pre-deployed, ready to go. ... The lawlessness, the crime that is occurring, did surprise us."
Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," the FEMA director said he "never thought I'd see" the lawlessness that has overtaken the city and interrupted emergency relief efforts. "It's heartbreaking and very, very frustrating to me from a broad operational perspective," he said.
"What we have right now is a situation where, with my having access to the military, bringing in the National Guard troops, securing the area, we'll be able to continue the relief efforts that we have been doing over the last several days," Brown added. "We'll be able to ramp those up and continue the evacuation."
Asked about the difficulty in getting sufficient supplies of food, water and medicine for the victims who need it, Brown conceded on NBC: "That's a frustrating issue for me ... You know, I could sit here and read off all the stats [of supplies furnished] ... We've provided food to people ... It's just a massive process ... to take care of every single one of those individuals."
Brown refused to be drawn into a debate about whether the administration and the White House should be faulted for a lack of work to upgrade flood levees there in recent years. "I'm focused on lifesaving efforts," he said.
Brown also said that he had talked daily with President Bush about the federal response and said "I have every thing I need to ramp this up and do what I have to do to secure New Orleans — get people out of here and start that recovery process."