Documents Shed Light on Katrina Response
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Late Friday, the office of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco released thousands of documents, communications between state and federal officials over Hurricane Katrina. The US Congress has requested the documents, and Governor Blanco's office hopes they will, quote, "set the record straight." Laura Maggi has been sifting through the 100,000 pages of material for The New Orleans Times-Picayune and joins me now.
Ms. LAURA MAGGI (The Times-Picayune): Hello.
ELLIOTT: Do the documents reveal anything new?
Ms. MAGGI: I don't think anything really new for us, although there has been a lot of clues as to what exactly a lot of the governor's top staff were doing as the crisis unfolded in terms of both practical issues of trying to get boats and buses to New Orleans to help rescue people, to concerns that they had as things evolved about managing the governor's image physically in terms of what she should look like and, as well, her demeanor and how she talked to the public.
ELLIOTT: What were they saying about her appearance?
Ms. MAGGI: I think there was one aide who suggested that she not do so many press conferences because they made her look common and also, when she did do them, for her not to appear angered or frustrated with the situation, the context being it would make her seem more in charge and perhaps less flustered.
ELLIOTT: I understand you've been trying to zero in on those e-mails and BlackBerry exchanges about buses. What are they telling you?
Ms. MAGGI: The staff was looking at how to try and get buses, particularly school buses on the state level, to go down to New Orleans and how to organize it. And one of the things that the governor highlighted in a narrative that she wrote for the Senate committee was that they felt very let down by FEMA. She recalls a conversation with Michael Brown, the former FEMA head, on the day of the storm promising 500 buses that are ready to be deployed. There's no document we've come across yet where FEMA is, in a written format, saying, `We're going to give you 500 buses.'
ELLIOTT: You found no documentation of FEMA promising the state buses?
Ms. MAGGI: I think there was always the understanding that, I think, FEMA would provide buses. In terms of there actually being some documentation that this promise was made, either from FEMA or state officials referencing that, that so far we haven't seen in what we've gone through. We haven't gone through everything, though.
ELLIOTT: You know, because of all the criticism that the governor has been under after Katrina, and she's saying that these documents might set the record straight, do you think that these documents do reveal that the administration was doing something right as the storm hit?
Ms. MAGGI: Well, I mean, I think one of the things that they show is that they were very active and very busy. I mean, the e-mails going back and forth go back and forth at every hour of the day, including, you know, the wee hours of the morning. I don't know that the documents will necessarily demonstrate that every decision they made was the right one. Also, a lot of those decisions that they ended up making are probably not going to be in these various documents; they would have been made in meetings, conversations between people that we'll have to learn about either in congressional testimony or some other way.
ELLIOTT: Reporter Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune joined us on the phone from Baton Rouge.
Ms. MAGGI: Thank you.