With the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, a central figure in the botched response, then-FEMA administrator Michael Brown, says the Bush administration made a "fatal mistake" in churning out facts and figures about its efforts instead of explaining the wider picture and the obstacles the government faced in dealing with the catastrophe.
All of the numbers "were factually correct, but weren't in context," the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN
Thursday. "We're moving all of this stuff in. We have teams here. Rescue teams are doing this. But we never explained to the people that it's not coming as fast as we want it to, and it's not enough, because of the number of people that were left behind in the aftermath of the storm."
Brown said he winced when President Bush told him on Sept. 2, while chaos reigned in New Orleans, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
"I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That's the president's style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place."
Ten days later Brown, who had little experience in dealing with natural disasters, was out as FEMA chief. He now criticizes his boss at the time, then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, for his handling of the situation. Chertoff was an avian flue conference during part of the unfolding catastrophe. "Whether it's a natural disaster or man-made disaster, you need to have one person in charge. And that person needs to be on the ground with the team, understanding what's going on," Brown said.
Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, eventually killing 1,836 and destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Much of the city of New Orleans was underwater. President Obama will visit the Crescent City on Sunday to mark the anniversary.