Looking for Answers in the Hurricane's Aftermath

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This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," September 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: The press could get in and out of there, could bring in their TV trucks and everything else, why the hell couldn’t a truckload of water, a truckload of medicine, a busload of physicians, why couldn’t they get through?


BRIT HUME, HOST: An indignant Senator Leahy asking a question no doubt asked by many others. FOX News correspondent Major Garrett has been looking for answers to some of those questions. He joins me now.

Major, first of all, obviously, the focus of all of the attention has been FEMA (search), the Federal Emergency Management Agency. What is FEMA?

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2,500 full-time employees, 4,000 standby employees. A mission statement very simple: Prepare, respond, help recover, reduce risk.

How does it do it? By coordinating with state and local entities and other groups, the Salvation Army (search), Red Cross (search), dedicated to helping the needy when disaster strikes.

HUME: So FEMA is relatively — it isn’t very labor intensive. It mostly works through other agencies?

GARRETT: It works through other agencies. But it has been moved into the Department of Homeland Security. In this crisis, it is a bit a victim of its own bureaucratic boastfulness.

Earlier this year, the new national response plan, released by the Department of Homeland Security, promised this: Seamless integration of the federal government when an incident exceeds local and state capabilities. In the minds of many Americans, this one did, and FEMA, at least initially, in the minds of some, didn’t not respond enough.

HUME: Yes, and the word "seamless" doesn’t exactly spring to mind.

GARRETT: No, it does not.

HUME: But look, I mean, they’re down there. The Red Cross, for example, is there.

GARRETT: Standing by, ready.

HUME: Standing by, ready. Why didn’t FEMA send the Red Cross into New Orleans when we had all of those people there on that bridge overpass and elsewhere?

GARRETT: At the Superdome (search), at the convention center...

HUME: Lack of water, right. Why not?

GARRETT: First of all, no jurisdiction. FEMA works with the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other organizations, but it has no direct control to order them to go one place or the other.

Secondarily, the Red Cross was ready. I just got off the phone with one of their officials. They had a vanguard, Brit, of trucks with water, food, hygiene equipment, all sorts of things ready to go, where? To the Superdome and the convention center.

Why weren’t they there? The Louisiana Department of Homeland Security told them they could not go.

HUME: Now, this is the Louisiana — this isn’t the Louisiana branch of the federal Homeland Security? This is...

GARRETT: The state’s own agency devoted to the state’s homeland security. They told them, "You cannot go there."

Why? The Red Cross tells me that state agency in Louisiana said, "Look, we do not want to create a magnet for more to come to the Superdome or the convention center. We want to get them out."

So at the same time local officials were screaming, "Where is the food? Where is the water?" The Red Cross was standing by ready. The Louisiana Department of Homeland Security said, "You can’t go."

HUME: All right. FEMA does presumably, at some point, have some jurisdiction over some military forces. Of course, the first-responders there are the National Guard (search). Why didn’t FEMA send the National Guard in? You heard that cry from many people.

GARRETT: FEMA does not have jurisdictional control over any state’s National Guard. Only the governor does.

The governor, in this case, Kathleen Blanco (search), a Democrat, did use the Louisiana National Guard for some purposes, did not deploy them in massive numbers initially. And they were not used to move any of these relief organizations in. And they could have been, for the very same reason I talked about earlier. The state decided they didn’t want the relief organizations where the people needed it most, because they wanted those people to get out.

But even today, we know that Governor Blanco has now decided that a mandatory evacuation may not be necessarily after all. But we can go into that later.

GARRETT: So she says.

HUME: What about the use of, by her, of the National Guard to impose law and order during the early looting and all of that?

GARRETT: She had a choice, as I am told. She could have taken up the offer from FEMA to federalize all of the activities in Louisiana, meaning that FEMA would be in control of everything, not only law enforcement, but everything else. She declined to give them that authority.

So, essentially, FEMA was trapped between two bureaucracies. One, the Department of Homeland Security, where many of its decisions have to be at least reviewed and, in some cases, approved, and a recalcitrant state bureaucracy, who wasn’t going to give them the authority they needed to make things happen, among them the National Guard.

HUME: What about this evacuation problem? That clearly was something that New Orleans knew it faced to some extent.

GARRETT: And the city of Louisiana. They have a whole plan that contemplates dealing with an evacuation in the effect of a hurricane three, four or five. Their own plan says, "One hundred thousand residents minimum from the New Orleans area will have to be evacuated." This plan makes it clear...

HUME: You mean, that can’t get out on their own?

GARRETT: That these people will not have their own vehicles. Not only that, it stipulates that these people are disproportionately poor, sick, and in need of special transportation assistance.

And, Brit, I think in these circumstances, bureaucratic language is important. Let’s go to this. This is what the state says. "The Department of Health and Hospitals has the primary responsibility for providing medical coordination for all of the special-needs populations, i.e. hospital and nursing home patients, persons on home health care, elderly persons and other persons with physical or mental disabilities."

Brit, I don’t think you come up with a better description of the people we saw day in and day out at the Superdome and the convention center than this very population that the state’s own plan said needed to be transported to a safe place and provided services.

HUME: No plan for — and, apparently, no facility for doing that.

GARRETT: No facility for doing that. Not only that, those who reviewed the plans that the state put together before were critical of it. In 2002, the New Orleans Times-Picayune (search) had a whole story about this, saying, "No one believes the evacuation plans are possible, feasible, or will be carried out." They proved to be accurate.

HUME: It sounds as if the state will have much to answer for in the investigation coming before Congress, as well as the federal government.

GARRETT: It appears to be that.

HUME: All right. Major, thank you.

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