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"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within."
— Will Durant

"My goal is to cut Government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
— Grover Norquist, Major Strategist Behind Bush's Tax Policy

"How, then, did we get here? How did the richest country on Earth end up watching children cry for food in putrid encampments on the evening news? How did reporters reach crowds of the desperate in places where police, troops and emergency responders had not yet been--three days after the storm?"
— Report in Time Magazine, 10/25/05

"Forward, Lord Chertoff! New Orleans awaits Thee."

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"Our president isn't exactly getting high marks for his handling of the catastrophe. People don't seem to realize, yes the hurricane has been devastating to the people who live in that area, but it has also ruined the last three days of his vacation. He's suffered too."
— Jimmy Kimmel

"What didn't go right?"
— George W. Bush, when asked to fire FEMA Director Michael Brown for "all that didn't go right" during Hurricane Katrina

"We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
— Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA)

"There are a lot of lessons we want to learn out of this process in terms of what works. I think we are in fact on our way to getting on top of the whole Katrina exercise."
— Vice President Dick Cheney, 10/10/05

Top Hurricane Expert Says Officials Threatened His Job Over Pre-Katrina Warnings

Monday, August 28th, 2006

On the eve of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, investigative journalist Greg Palast reports that a top hurricane expert says government officials threatened his job over his warnings about the impending disaster.

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that ravaged the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The storm was the most powerful and expensive natural disaster to hit the U.S- killing more than 1,500 people in New Orleans alone, displacing some 770,000 residents and destroying over 300,000 homes. The federal government's response to the disaster was widely condemned - images of the tens of thousands of New Orleans residents piling into the city's superdome stadium pleading for food, water and aid became symbolic of the government's inaction.

In the aftermath of the storm, it become increasingly clear that the effects of Hurricane Katrina were made far worse by government incompetence and neglect. Warnings about the severity of the storm were ignored and the levees which were supposed to prevent New Orleans from flooding were grossly inadequate. And, as investigative reporter Greg Palast reveals in his new report, there were major holes in the city's evacuation plan.

  • Greg Palast, investigative reporter and author of "Armed Madhouse" reports from New Orleans. Produced by Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films.

AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The storm was the most powerful and expensive natural disaster to hit the U.S., killing more than 1,500 people in New Orleans alone, displacing some 770,000 residents and destroying over 300,000 homes. The federal government's response to the disaster was widely condemned. Images of the tens of thousands of New Orleans residents piling into the city's Superdome stadium, pleading for food, water and aid, became symbolic of the government's inaction.

In the aftermath of the storm, it became increasingly clear that the effects of Hurricane Katrina were made far worse by government incompetence and neglect. Warnings about the severity of the storm were ignored, and the levees, which were supposed to prevent New Orleans from flooding, were grossly inadequate. And, as investigative reporter Greg Palast reveals in this new Democracy Now! report, there were major holes in the city's evacuation plan

    GREG PALAST: Welcome to New Orleans, whose motto is “The City that Care Forgot.” In fact, it's a city that everyone forgot.

    BROD BAGERT: Reckless negligence that killed human beings. Old ladies watched the water come up to their nose over their eyes, and they drowned in houses just like this in this neighborhood, because of reckless negligence that's unanswered for.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: By midnight on Monday, the White House knew. But none of us knew.

    PATRICIA THOMAS: Katrina didn't come in my house and put these gates up on my windows and things. Katrina didn't have me walking out here looking for somewhere to stay. Man did this. This was manmade.

    MALIK RAHIM: They wanted them poor niggers out of there, and they ain’t had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers, you know? And that's just the bottom line.

    GREG PALAST: Our president says he hasn’t forgotten a promise he made here.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want the people down there to understand that it's going to take a while to recover. This was a huge storm.

    GREG PALAST: Well, Mr. President, I think people down here know it was a huge storm. Over half a million of them fled the flood. It's been a full year, and only 170,000, far less than half, have come back, almost none to their own homes.

    STEVEN SMITH: Stayed three nights here and one night on the bridge.

    GREG PALAST: You were three nights stuck in the flood?

    STEVEN SMITH: Right here. Yep.

    GREG PALAST: And they weren't looking for you?

    STEVEN SMITH: We had helicopters, but they -- nothing didn’t pass. At least they passed over us. I’m on a roof, holding my shirt out and saying that we had babies back here.

    GREG PALAST: This is Steven Smith. Like 127,000 others in this town, he didn't have a car in which to escape, so he was left in the rising waters. Stranded in the heat on a bridge, he closed the eyes of a man who died of dehydration after giving his grandchildren his last bottle of water.

    What kind of evacuation plan would leave 127,000 to sink or swim? It turns out that the Bush administration had contracted out evacuation planning to a corporation, IEM, Innovative Emergency Management. I couldn't locate their qualifications, but I did locate their list of donations to the Republican Party. We went to Baton Rouge to talk to them.

    These are the offices of Innovative Emergency Management. They were the ones that were paid a half-million bucks to come up with an emergency evacuation plan for the city of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. One problem is, I can't find the plan. So I’m coming here to ask them about it.

    So when I showed up at their office, they would only talk to me from behind a glass wall. By phone.

    Did you in fact come up with a plan, because it says it’s urgent to come up with a plan? Did you come up -- can you just tell me if you came up with a plan or not? I’m just happy to talk to you one-on-one. You're probably about 12 feet away from me. Or somewhere. I don't know, are you hiding in this office somewhere? I’m happy to speak to you face-to-face.

    We can’t find your plan -- neither can FEMA -- that you were paid a half-million dollars for, that at least claimed to here. We can't find this plan. And it’s kind of a problem. I guess it's kind of hard to evacuate a city, if you can't find the plan itself.

    IEM EMPLOYEE: Can we -- she's got a lot of experience in evacuation.

    GREG PALAST: Is it more true that maybe it was helpful that she gave a lot of donations to the Republican Party? Maybe that's the experience?

    IEM EMPLOYEE: Terry?

    TERRY AT IEM: Yes.

    GREG PALAST: So that's when they called in the guards.

    IEM SECURITY GUARD: Security has been called. We ask that you please leave the building now.

    GREG PALAST: So, quickly, before security gets here, I just want to tell you that this is Innovative Emergency Management, and it’s very innovative not to have a plan to manage an emergency.

    I decided to look for someone with a little more experience in hurricane evacuation. LSU, Louisiana State University, they're just down the street from IEM. LSU has one hellacious football team. They also have the best team of hurricane experts in the nation. I met with Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the university’s elaborate Center for the Study of Hurricanes. I asked this renowned specialist about the reputation of IEM, prior to their getting the half-million-dollar evacuation exercise contract.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: I hadn’t heard of them prior to this exercise, no.

    GREG PALAST: The LSU scientist already had an evacuation model, but IEM and FEMA refused to use it.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: We had the science. We had really studied this thing. We knew what was going to go wrong. We had an enormous amount of information, right down to mapping where the gas tanks were and pipelines. Science was basically ignored all the way through the process.

    GREG PALAST: The LSU professors warned, for example, that the IEM plan simply made no provision for people -- the old, the sick -- who couldn't escape in a car. I asked him the consequences of this oversight.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: Well, you know, 1,500 of them drowned. That's the bottom line.

    GREG PALAST: Then the professor surprised me by saying that giving us this information put his job at risk.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: I wasn't going to let them -- let those sort of threats shut me down or any of the other sorts of nonsense that went on, because it was so important that we get out what had gone wrong and why.

    GREG PALAST: Apparently, the heat from the university originated with a state official, who now works for IEM.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: We got a phone call from somebody in the state government who actually now works for IEM. But, I don’t think that was his plan at the time. And he jumped all over me and said, by criticizing their work, I was putting the whole exercise in jeopardy, and if I did it again, I would be banned.

    GREG PALAST: Back in New Orleans, former city councilman, Brod Bagert, a lawyer, standing in the gutted wreckage of his own home, did not think kindly of the concealment of van Heerden’s warnings.

    BROD BAGERT: Ongoing protection that should have been occurring was done -- it was done negligently. Not only wrong, negligently. And not only negligently, but reckless negligence, the kind of negligence for which an individual would be indicted, prosecuted, tried, convicted, and spend their life in jail. Negligence that killed people, lots of people. Reckless negligence that killed human beings. Old ladies watched the water come up to their nose, over their eyes, and they drowned in houses just like this in this neighborhood, because of reckless negligence that’s unanswered for.

    GREG PALAST: So now, we’ve discovered why there was no real plan of escape. But that leaves the question: why did the water flood the city? People drowned. The city drowned.

    BROD BAGERT: Destroyed house, destroyed house, destroyed house, destroyed house, destroyed house. Every single house on every single block. Mile after mile after mile of residential urban neighborhoods are completely destroyed and remain destroyed.

    GREG PALAST: Bagert took us to a neighbor's house near the levee.

    BROD BAGERT: So, look, they have three feet of mud in here. There's a basketball. You know, some children's toys. One day it was somebody's home. The next day, it’s -- looks like a mad monster came through it, a beast.

    GREG PALAST: There’s an x on this house. It has a five under it. That means that five corpses were pulled out of here, five people who were killed. And they weren't killed by Katrina. They were killed by this, a levee, which was supposed to protect them from the waters of the Mississippi, and it failed. And they never told the five in there that they knew it would fail.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: FEMA knew at 11:00 on Monday that the levees were breached. At 2:00, they flew over the 17th Street canal and took video of the breach. By midnight on Monday, the White House knew. But none of us knew.

    GREG PALAST: Back at LSU, van Heerden's experts warned the Bush administration about levees, long before Katrina hit.

    DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: I, myself, briefed many, many senior federal officials, including somebody from the White House.

    GREG PALAST: Without the warning that the levees had begun to break, evacuations stopped, until it was too late. But those that survived, where were they? This city is still half empty.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Greg Palast. This piece was produced by Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films. Part two in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of New Orleans, destroying the city's infrastructure, displacing most of its residents. A year later, only about half of New Orleans population of 450,000 people has returned. Many of those unable to come back are poor and African American. In the ravaged, mostly Black neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward, only 1,000 of the 20,000 people who lived there before Katrina have returned. This has drastically altered the demographics of a city that used to be two-thirds Black. Activists and residents have condemned the government's refusal to reopen the city's public housing projects and point out that while tourist areas are being developed, affordable housing is not being built. Many are asking, “Who is New Orleans being rebuilt for?” Here again, investigative reporter Greg Palast, from New Orleans.

    GREG PALAST: We drove back to New Orleans to find out what happened to those who tried to return.

    What's wrong, now?

    DISPLACED NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: They just messing all over us?

    GREG PALAST: What are they doing?

    DISPLACED NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Putting you out your own house. Now we ain't got nowhere to go. You called them back, saying we could come back home. Then when we get there, they got the police coming in there putting us out and others. They're harassing us. Oh no, this is not right. I'm basically between here and Texas, coming in -- you know, coming to see if I could get my house back. And I'm -- you know, but I'm in Texas, but I'm coming down here to see about my house. But they say they ain't letting nobody in and all this. But where we going to go at, though? Where's we going to go at?

    GREG PALAST: What happened?

    PATRICIA THOMAS: And then they told us to come back.

    GREG PALAST: What happens tonight? Where are you going to go tonight?

    DISPLACED NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: That's what I want to know, mister. I don't know where I'm going, me and my kids.

    GREG PALAST: Her friend, Patricia Thomas, was also locked out of her home in the Lafitte housing project. The next day, we helped her break into her apartment, barred by metal plates.

    PATRICIA THOMAS: This is my porch, right here. I think I might take me a little break and sit on it for a minute. Yeah, this is my porch here.

    GREG PALAST: The city has sealed up almost all public housing. But these apartments were never touched by water. It was nearly perfect.

    And this, it's been a year.

    PATRICIA THOMAS: It's been a year, and my house looking good like that.

    GREG PALAST: I think you and I together, just the two of us, could put your place back together in a week.


    GREG PALAST: No problem.

    PATRICIA THOMAS: No problem at all.

    GREG PALAST: But they won't let her in. And this has nothing to do with Katrina.

    PATRICIA THOMAS: Katrina didn't do this. Man did this. Katrina didn't come in my house and put these gates up on my windows and things. Katrina didn't have me walking out here looking for somewhere to stay. Man did this. This was manmade.

    GREG PALAST: This is not what we think of as public housing in America. These places are gorgeous, two- and three-story townhouses with iron porticos. Why would the city spend thousands of dollars per unit to armor these places, kick out the tenants? Well, the answer may be over here. This is the downtown business district. We are halfway between there and the tony French Quarter. In other words, this is some very expensive real estate. For years, the city and speculators have been trying to get the tenants out of these apartments. Katrina, the perfect storm, was the perfect excuse. So what kind of New Orleans do they want?

    WHITE TOURIST: Would you like a beer?

    GREG PALAST: This is the new New Orleans, stripped down, downsized, not too Black, just right for tourists. You could call it Six Flags over Louisiana.

    They call this drink a “hurricane.”

    But across the Mississippi, far from the Quarter, not everyone is thrilled with this brave new New Orleans of tourists and Mardi Gras.

    MALIK RAHIM: It's two cities. You know? There's the city for the white and the rich. And there's another city for the poor and Blacks. You know, the city that's for the white and rich has recovered. They had a Jazz Fest. They had a Mardi Gras. They're going to have the Saints playing for those who have recovered. But for those who haven't recovered, there's nothing.

    GREG PALAST: Malik Rahim is a leader of Common Ground, a grassroots recovery organization. He explains why Patricia and others are locked out of their apartments.

    MALIK RAHIM: They didn't want to open it up. They wanted them closed. They wanted them poor niggers out of there, and they ain't had no intention to allow it to be reopened to no poor niggers, you know? And that's just the bottom line.

    GREG PALAST: Malik's group isn't waiting on George Bush to get around to housing the surviving poor.

    MALIK RAHIM: This is a unit we are getting together.

    GREG PALAST: Common Ground is completing almost as many homes as the Bush administration, but who's left? And who will stay?

    This is the Lower Ninth Ward, or I should say “was” the Lower Ninth Ward, an African American working class neighborhood. There's no potable water here. There's no electricity. There's no nothing. There's just no way to return, and a lot of residents feel that's exactly the plan.

    This is Mr. Henry Irving, Sr. He has no neighbors, no water, no electricity, but he is not leaving.

    HENRY IRVING, SR.: They want you to leave. That's what they want us to do. They want us to get discouraged and leave. So why leave? Where I'm going, then? I'm going to go to another community? I put all my life in this community. I'm going to stay here, and if God's willing, I'm going to be here long enough to see it come back.

    GREG PALAST: So can it happen again? Another hurricane? Another flood? Don't worry, because the government has hired a consulting firm to analyze what went wrong with the response to Katrina. It's a little firm from Baton Rouge called Innovative Emergency Management.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative reporter Greg Palast in New Orleans with producer Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films.

Copyright © 2006 - Democracy Now!, All Rights Reserved


As significant anniversaries for Katrina and Sept. 11 approach, historian William Chafe says the two events will be remembered as moments that define the Bush administration as incompetent.

“Looking back, Katrina and Sept. 11 will be bookends for an administration that has failed to appreciate and respond effectively to the information it receives,” says Chafe, a former president of the Organization of American Historians.

Chafe is currently drafting the sixth edition of his book “The Unfinished Journey: America Since WWII,” which will include events up through Katrina.

“Both disasters were marked by failure to appropriately deal with intelligence,” Chafe says. “With Sept. 11, you had the Aug. 6 memo warning of terrorist plans to hijack airplanes that was ignored.

With Katrina, you had a National Weather Service report delivered to the White House the night before the hurricane hit.

In both cases, the officials responsible for handling the information resigned, but neither George Tenet nor Michael Brown was an aberration in the Bush administration. The administration as a whole was characterized by an inability to identify the seriousness of a situation and then respond decisively and effectively.”

He can be reached at (919) 684-5436 or william.chafe@duke.edu.

Journal: Agency blocked hurricane report
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer

A government agency blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disputed the Nature article, saying there was not a report but a two-page fact sheet about the topic. The information was to be included in a press kit to be distributed in May as the annual hurricane season approached but wasn't ready.

"The document wasn't done in time for the rollout," NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John said in responding to the Nature article. "The White House never saw it, so they didn't block it."

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — part of the Commerce Department — in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.

Leetmaa, head of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in New Jersey, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher is currently out of the country, but Nature quoted him as saying the report was merely an internal document and could not be released because the agency could not take an official position on the issue.

However, the journal said in its online report that the study was merely a discussion of the current state of hurricane science and did not contain any policy or position statements.

The report drew a prompt response from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J., who charged that "the administration has effectively declared war on science and truth to advance its anti-environment agenda ... the Bush administration continues to censor scientists who have documented the current impacts of global warming."

A series of studies over the past year or so have shown an increase in the power of hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a strengthening that many storm experts say is tied to rising sea-surface temperatures.

Just two weeks ago, researchers said that most of the increase in ocean temperature that feeds more intense hurricanes is a result of human-induced global warming, a study one researcher said "closes the loop" between climate change and powerful storms like Katrina.

Not all agree, however, with opponents arguing that many other factors affect storms, which can increase and decrease in cycles.

The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.

In February, a NASA political appointee who worked in the space agency's public relations department resigned after reportedly trying to restrict access to Jim Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who has been active in global warming research.


On the Net

News@Nature.com: http://www.nature.com/news

"I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."
— George W. Bush, 9/1/05, on Good Morning America

Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina

By Margaret Ebrahim and John Solomon

[On 8/28/05] In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage - along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press - show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's confidence on Aug. 28 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

Some of the footage and transcripts from briefings Aug. 25-31 conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the fog of war defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."

Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility - and Bush was worried too.

White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Brown discussed fears of a levee breach the day the storm hit.

"I talked to the president twice today, once in Crawford and then again on Air Force One," Brown said. "He's obviously watching the television a lot, and he had some questions about the Dome, he's asking questions about reports of breaches."

Louisiana officials angrily blamed the federal government for not being prepared but the transcripts shows they were still praising FEMA as the storm roared toward the Gulf Coast and even two days afterward. "I think a lot of the planning FEMA has done with us the past year has really paid off," Col. Jeff Smith, Louisiana's emergency preparedness deputy director, said during the Aug. 28 briefing.

It wasn't long before Smith and other state officials sounded overwhelmed.

"We appreciate everything that you all are doing for us, and all I would ask is that you realize that what's going on and the sense of urgency needs to be ratcheted up," Smith said Aug. 30.

Mississippi begged for more attention in that same briefing.

"We know that there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana that need to be rescued, but we would just ask you, we desperately need to get our share of assets because we'll have people dying - not because of water coming up, but because we can't get them medical treatment in our affected counties," said a Mississippi state official whose name was not mentioned on the tape.

Video footage of the Aug. 28 briefing, the final one before Katrina struck, showed an intense Brown voicing concerns from the government's disaster operation center and imploring colleagues to do whatever was necessary to help victims.

"We're going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event," Brown warned. He called the storm "a bad one, a big one" and implored federal agencies to cut through red tape to help people, bending rules if necessary.

"Go ahead and do it," Brown said. "I'll figure out some way to justify it. ... Just let them yell at me."

Bush appeared from a narrow, windowless room at his vacation ranch in Texas, with his elbows on a table. Hagin was sitting alongside him. Neither asked questions in the Aug. 28 briefing.

"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm," the president said.

A relaxed Chertoff, sporting a polo shirt, weighed in from Washington at Homeland Security's operations center. He would later fly to Atlanta, outside of Katrina's reach, for a bird flu event.

One snippet captures a missed opportunity on Aug. 28 for the government to have dispatched active-duty military troops to the region to augment the National Guard.

Chertoff: "Are there any DOD assets that might be available? Have we reached out to them?"

Brown: "We have DOD assets over here at EOC (emergency operations center). They are fully engaged. And we are having those discussions with them now."

Chertoff: "Good job."

In fact, active duty troops weren't dispatched until days after the storm. And many states' National Guards had yet to be deployed to the region despite offers of assistance, and it took days before the Pentagon deployed active-duty personnel to help overwhelmed Guardsmen.

The National Hurricane Center's Mayfield told the final briefing before Katrina struck that storm models predicted minimal flooding inside New Orleans during the hurricane but he expressed concerns that counterclockwise winds and storm surges afterward could cause the levees at Lake Pontchartrain to be overrun.

"I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern," Mayfield told the briefing.

Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated.

"They're not taking patients out of hospitals, taking prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans. So I'm very concerned about that," Brown said.

Despite the concerns, it ultimately took days for search and rescue teams to reach some hospitals and nursing homes.

Brown also told colleagues one of his top concerns was whether evacuees who went to the New Orleans Superdome - which became a symbol of the failed Katrina response - would be safe and have adequate medical care.

"The Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level.... I don't know whether the roof is designed to stand, withstand a Category Five hurricane," he said.

Brown also wanted to know whether there were enough federal medical teams in place to treat evacuees and the dead in the Superdome.

"Not to be (missing) kind of gross here," Brown interjected, "but I'm concerned" about the medical and mortuary resources "and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe."

Associated Press writers Ron Fournier and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this story.

They Called It Katrina

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 22 August 2006

One year ago tomorrow, on August 23rd, Tropical Depression Twelve formed over the eastern Bahamas. The depression was upgraded to a tropical storm the next day as the energy and winds within intensified. It was the eleventh tropical storm of the season, and thus was given a name beginning with the letter "K."

The watchers at the National Hurricane Center called it Katrina.

Tropical Storm Katrina made landfall in Florida between Hallandale Beach and Aventura on August 25th, where it weakened for a time. One hour after crossing Florida and entering the Gulf of Mexico, however, the tropical storm strengthened after feeding off the warm Gulf waters. Katrina became a Category Three hurricane on August 27th, and nearly doubled in size.

By the morning of August 28th, Katrina was a Category Five storm, and by 1:00 pm CDT the storm's maximum sustained winds peaked at 175 miles per hour. It achieved landfall again on the morning on August 29th as it crossed into Louisiana and Mississippi. Katrina's hurricane status was maintained even 150 miles inland, and was not downgraded to tropical storm status until it had reached Clarkesville, Tennessee. The impact of the storm's remains was felt along the eastern Great Lakes region into August 31st, and as calendar pages were turned to September, Katrina finally dissipated entirely over Ontario and Quebec.

The storm came, the levees failed, and the nightmares began to unfold. Days passed without any help coming from the federal government. Memories and images of the devastation left behind in the wake of Katrina - in Alabama, Mississippi, and most searingly in New Orleans, Louisiana - are today as much a part of this nation's tragic history as the memories and images of September 11, Pearl Harbor, and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The entire country watched in numb horror as one of our greatest cities was slowly and methodically washed off the map. Untold thousands fled their homes, were separated from families, and sent to faraway states to wait for whatever Fate had in store for them. Nearly two thousand others remained behind, and perished. Thousands more suffered in unutterably ill-prepared shelters. Petroleum distillation and distribution was disrupted, and the economic shock hit every gas station in America. The cost of Katrina has been estimated at close to $100 billion.

The pictures from New Orleans cannot be purged from memory. There was Ethel Freeman, an elderly woman dead in her wheelchair outside the New Orleans convention center with a black poncho covering her head, dead and left to molder because the convention center was overwhelmed with evacuees. "Let's not forget," said Freeman's lawyer, John Paul Massicot, "she survived the storm. The storm didn't get her. She didn't survive the rescue."

There was the unidentified man who lay dead on Union Street in the French quarter for days and days, covered only by a blue blanket. Two orange construction cones looked down upon his exposed feet. The man was still lying there a full week after the storm had passed. Other bodies floated helplessly down flooded streets and swollen canals. More than 100 people died in a warehouse down by the docks, waiting for a rescue that never came. Thirty people died in a flooded-out nursing home outside the city, left there by the staff to wait for a rescue that never came.

The government's standard list of worst possible occurrences had a Category Five hurricane striking New Orleans standing at number three for years and years. One would have assumed, given the fact that such an event was placed nearly on par with a nuclear strike against New York, that the federal government was prepared for this eventuality. This, tragically, was not the case.

In January of 2001, George W. Bush appointed Texas crony Joe Allbaugh to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), despite the fact that Allbaugh enjoyed exactly zero experience in disaster management. By April of 2001, the Bush administration announced that much of FEMA's work was to be privatized and downsized. Allbaugh that month described FEMA as "an oversized entitlement program."

In December 2002, Allbaugh quit as head of FEMA to create a consulting firm whose purpose was to advise and assist companies looking to do business in occupied Iraq. He was replaced by Michael D. Brown, whose experience in disaster management was gathered while working as an estate planning lawyer in Colorado, and while serving as counsel for the International Arabian Horse Association legal department. In other words, Bush chose back-to-back FEMA heads whose collective ability to handle any significant crisis was nil. By March of 2003, FEMA was no longer a Cabinet-level position, and was folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its primary mission was recast toward fighting acts of terrorism.

In June of 2004, the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for levee construction in New Orleans was cut by a record $71.2 million. Many now blame the Army Corps of Engineers for the disaster, but it was not they who decreed such a massive evisceration of the budget they needed to maintain the levees. Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri said at the time, "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay."

On the day the storm came, a sizeable portion of the Louisiana National Guard, whose troopers serve as an absolutely essential work force during any natural disaster or emergency, was sitting 7,000 miles away in Iraq.

"Bush mugs for the cameras," wrote Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly regarding the White House response to the disaster, "cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden."

"For all the president's statements ahead of the hurricane," wrote Newsweek, "the region seemed woefully unprepared for the flooding of New Orleans - a catastrophe that has long been predicted by experts and politicians alike. There seems to have been no contingency planning for a total evacuation of the city, including the final refuges of the city's Superdome and its hospitals. There were no supplies of food and water ready offshore - on Navy ships for instance - in the event of such flooding, even though government officials knew there were thousands of people stranded inside the sweltering and powerless city."

The worst, the absolute worst aspect of it all, was the fact that almost everyone saw this coming. The National Weather Service sent out an alert on August 28th: "A hurricane warning is in effect for the north central gulf coast from Morgan City, Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama/Florida border, including the city of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. Maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph with higher gusts. Katrina is a large hurricane. Coastal storm surge flooding of 18 to 22 feet above normal tide levels, locally as high as 28 feet, along with large and dangerous battering waves, can be expected near and to the east of where the center makes landfall. Some levees in the greater New Orleans area could be overtopped."

Also on Sunday the 28th, Governor Blanco of Louisiana dispatched a letter to Bush formally requesting assistance as the storm bore down on her state. "Under the provisions of Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 USC. 5121-5206 (Stafford Act), and implemented by 44 CFR 206.36, I request that you declare an expedited major disaster for the state of Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, a Category V hurricane approaches our coast south of New Orleans; beginning on August 28, 2005 and continuing," read the letter.

Nineteen hours before Katrina struck, a video conference was held between FEMA Director Brown, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield and several others. The video conference was required because George W. Bush was still vacationing down in Texas. Bush listened to a long litany of dire predictions regarding the impact of a Category Five hurricane making landfall over New Orleans, and promised swift and decisive action to deal with it.

In fact, he did nothing for days and days. The National Hurricane Center warned of levee failures the day before the storm arrived, and the Governor of Louisiana reached out for help. Bush personally heard his own FEMA director, as well as the Hurricane Center director, similarly warn him. The best response he could muster, after the dying in New Orleans had peaked and receded with the waters, was to lie. "I don't think," he said, "anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

A year later, New Orleans remains shattered. "One year after disaster struck, the slow-motion rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region looks identical to what has happened to date in Afghanistan and Iraq," wrote Pratap Chatterjee in a CorpWatch report on the rebuilding process. "We see a pattern of profiteering, waste and failure - due to the same flawed contracting system and even many of the same players. The process of getting Katrina-stricken areas back on their feet is needlessly behind schedule, in part, due to the shunning of local business people in favor of politically connected corporations from elsewhere in the U.S. that have used their clout to win lucrative no-bid contracts with little or no accountability and who have done little or no work while ripping off the taxpayer."

"The color of the flood is not the blue of the Lake waters that inundated the city," wrote Mark Folse, owner of the excellent blog titled Wet Bank Guide, in a post from July 2006, "or the day-glo orange or red spray paint that make the rescue marks on homes. The color is the brown the water left behind, strikingly revealed by Google Maps now that some areas of New Orleans have been updated with post-flood imagery. You can see the stark difference between the pre-flood photos west of the railway line - the sharp, dark green of trees and lawns, the crisp grays of the city streets from before the Federal flood - and the homogenous brown of the Ninth Ward after. Zoom into highest resolution, then browse to the east past the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (known to most as the Industrial Canal). You can see the homes scattered like an upset Monopoly board found in the mud, without regard for the grid of streets on which these homes once had addresses."

"As I stare at another little screen," wrote Folse about the images of his ruined city, "I imagine the last images captured by the eyes of the people who lived on those streets, synthesizing my own memory of these neighborhoods with the videos of the tsunami, running a monstrous newsreel of my own imagining. It is as if the victims of the Federal Flood were reaching across and directing the camera, telling me: this is what it was like, what we saw, what they did to us. I can almost feel them crowd around me, the cliche of a haunting image made palpable, whispering as I type: Remember."

A few short weeks from now, this nation will pass the fifth anniversary of September 11. Six months after that, we will mark the fourth year of our occupation of Iraq. Tomorrow, we must recall the day Katrina was born, recall her slow, deadly crawl toward a beloved city, recall the unfolding horrors that came at us on our television screens for endless hours, and finally, we must recall the utter indifference the disaster inspired in our government. Katrina stands as the third historic calamity presided over by the Bush administration. As with the other two, this should not have been allowed to happen. As with the other two, thousands are dead and despairing in the aftermath.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

FEMA Chief Waited Until After Storm Hit

By Ted Bridis, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The government's disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.

Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities."

The initial responses of the government and Brown came under escalating criticism as the breadth of destruction and death grew. President Bush and Congress on Tuesday pledged separate investigations into the federal response to Katrina. "Governments at all levels failed," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine.

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Brown had positioned front-line rescue teams and Coast Guard helicopters before the storm. Brown's memo on Aug. 29 aimed to assemble the necessary federal work force to support the rescues, establish communications and coordinate with victims and community groups, Knocke said.

Instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these employees would focus on helping victims find the help they needed, he said.

"There will be plenty of time to assess what worked and what didn't work," Knocke said. "Clearly there will be time for blame to be assigned and to learn from some of the successful efforts."

Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."

"FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the life-savers," Knocke said.

Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. "You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day," Brown wrote.

The same day Brown wrote Chertoff, Brown also urged local fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi not to send trucks or emergency workers into disaster areas without an explicit request for help from state or local governments. Brown said it was vital to coordinate fire and rescue efforts.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Tuesday that Brown should step down.

After a senators-only briefing by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other Cabinet members, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said lawmakers weren't getting their questions answered.

"What people up there want to know, Democrats and Republicans, is what is the challenge ahead, how are you handling that and what did you do wrong in the past," said Schumer, D-N.Y.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the administration is "getting a bad rap" for the emergency response. "People have to understand this is a big, big problem."

Meanwhile, the airline industry said the government's request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come until late Thursday afternoon. The president of the Air Transport Association, James May, said the Homeland Security Department called then to ask if the group could participate in an airlift for refugees.

Searching for the Face of Katrina and a Sign of Hope
To a reporter covering the aftermath, a girl named Justice became a symbol of the suffering. Where was she? In a place that felt like home?

By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer
August 28, 2006
NEW ORLEANS — The first time I met Justice, she was in the Louisiana Superdome, sitting sidesaddle on her mother's lap and swinging her legs as if she were on a shady porch, not trapped in a defeated city.

At the time, two days after Hurricane Katrina struck, she was 17 months old, the same age as my daughter. I wrote about her that night, how she was eating trail mix rescuers had handed out, how I had foolishly advised her mother — when there was nothing else to eat — that babies shouldn't eat raisins.

She became, to me, the face of the storm, the face I saw when I thought about everything the Gulf Coast had endured in those terrible months: the decimation of 93,000 square miles, the dead and the displaced, the unmasking of a forgotten American underclass. Did her family, like many who endured the hurricane, still live with a quiet sadness? Where had they ended up? Wherever it was, did it feel like home? As the first anniversary of the storm approached, I decided to find out.

There are suggestions of progress and recovery here. Billions of dollars in federal aid is headed toward the region. Some have suggested that New Orleans, long one of the poorest cities in America, could become a boomtown. But it's easy to be pessimistic about its future.

Block after block remains abandoned. Crime is up. Suicides have tripled. City Hall — where the facade is still missing some of the letters in "City Hall" — announced recently that the anniversary of Katrina would be marked with comedy and fireworks. But there is a pervasive sense that the party is over, and amid public outcry, a more somber memorial has been planned.

Maybe, I thought, finding Justice would provide some hope.

The operator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency was reading from a script: "What state did your disaster occur in?" I told her that it was wasn't exactly my disaster but that it had occurred in Louisiana, that I was trying to locate a family I had last seen in the Superdome.

She suggested calling the Louisiana Family Assistance Center and the National Next of Kin Registry.

The center said it would need an address, phone number and date of birth, which, I pointed out, if I'd had, I wouldn't have had to call in the first place.

The registry operator said: "I can't even tell you where to start."

Next was City Hall in New Orleans. The operator offered a number for the Red Cross; it was a fax line. I called back to City Hall.

"Have you tried FEMA?"

The only concrete leads were on a list of addresses — compiled from voting and property records — where Justice's family may have lived before the storm. The first stop was a house in the working-class Bywater district. One of Justice's relatives appeared to have lived in this "double," a fatter version of the city's narrow shotgun homes.

Azaleas had taken over, and weeds had erupted through the concrete steps leading to the door. There was no one home, hardly unusual in a city where fewer than half the residents have returned.

Across the bridge that spans the nearby Industrial Canal, a scrawny man was wrestling the radiator out of a green pickup on the roadside. The truck had been struck by a tidal surge that had ripped off its roof. But in New Orleans, where scavengers pick through the rubble every day, it was a find. His hands coated in rust, sweat dripping from his nose, Tyrone Smith said the radiator might fetch $15 or more at the scrap yard.

Smith put in 13 years at a shrimp plant before the storm — a job that vanished amid a crumbling economy. Now he gets $10 an hour rewiring flooded houses. The 42-year-old lives in a gutted house in the 9th Ward, and sleeps in a bunk bed next to exposed studs pocked with rusty nails.

A pickup truck rumbled down the street. It was a noisy arrival; clamshells swept in from the Gulf of Mexico still covered many of the streets. "The bossman!" Smith said. He raced off to retrieve the kneepads his boss had given him for work. Then he ran toward the truck, pausing only when he spotted a twisted piece of aluminum lying in the weeds. It was enough, he said, to get a couple bucks at the scrap yard.

House after house was vacant. No one remembered Justice or her family.

Next to one of the houses in the Bywater, neighbor Dymous Henry said seven people were living on the block of 21 dwellings. Even those who have returned, he said, are not really home.

"People here can't take change," said Henry, 48. "There were people who lived in this part of town who had never been Uptown, never been across the river. This has done something to them. Everybody's changed."

In the Gentilly neighborhood, close to Lake Pontchartrain, was a house where Justice's mother, Tonisha, may have lived in 2002. Now, a meaty tree limb juts through the roof. The block is so quiet you can hear the warped houses wheeze as they settle.

Across the street were the block's only residents. Renee Daw, 43, who works at a shipping warehouse, and her son, Raynau, 8, rode out the storm at home. When they were chased from the attic because the water got so high, they kicked out a vent and climbed onto the roof. They were rescued after three days. They returned in April, and live in a FEMA trailer parked in front of their gutted house.

New Orleans is not an easy place to be a kid these days. There are two boys Raynau's age three blocks away. They came by to play, once. The local park is padlocked; the bleachers next to the baseball diamond are upside-down. Asked what he was going to do with the rest of his day, Raynau just shrugged.

"We mostly just stay in the trailer," Daw said. "We're inside people now."

Raynau misses the black Labrador he had to leave behind when he and his mother were rescued. Other than that, he never brings up the storm, even though they still boil water to brush their teeth, even though a lifejacket, a remnant of the rescue, still dangles from the rafters of the attic.

"He's let it go," Daw said. "Just like his mama."

In Pontchartrain Park, a neighborhood of postal workers and schoolteachers that was devastated by a breach in the London Avenue Canal, property records indicated that Tonisha's mother, Winifred Jones, owned a tiny home. Today, the door is missing. There is nothing inside but a toilet and a bathtub full of chunks of drywall.

Down the street, a man living in a FEMA trailer was mowing a neighbor's lawn, not because he had any neighbors, but because snakes and other critters had taken up in the overgrown lots.

"Tonisha?" he said. "That's my goddaughter!"

This was Winifred Jones' house, he confirmed. But when asked where they were living, he snapped: "Why are you asking me all these questions?"

He began to sweat profusely. He grabbed the sides of his baseball cap, pulled it low and retreated into the street, stumbling over a pile of empty bleach bottles, tree limbs and splintered boards.

"Do you know them?" he shouted. "Or don't you?"

It was a valid question; despite the connection that I felt with Justice and her mother, I didn't really know them at all. "I don't mean any harm. I'm just trying to see if they're OK."

"Don't you get it, boy?" he screamed. "Everybody's gone! Everybody's lost!"

Twenty-two houses, in Gentilly, in Pontchartrain Park, in the Bywater. Nothing. Fifty-three phone calls, to FEMA, to City Hall, to disconnected numbers, and to people in North Carolina and Oklahoma who appeared to be relatives or old neighbors, but none knew Justice and the family.

Where were they?

An Internet message board set up to reunite storm victims provided a clue I had missed: a note from Winifred Jones written from the Houston Astrodome, which after Katrina had served as a shelter. It included a cellphone number.

A recording said the phone network would not accept messages. Another dead end, it seemed. But a few minutes later, my phone rang. A woman was on the other end: "Who called this number?"

"I'm trying to find Tonisha Jones," I said.

"I'm her auntie," she said. She said they were living in Beaumont, Texas. "I'll have her call you in 15 minutes."

When the phone rang, I raced across the room to answer it. I said I was looking for a little girl named Justice.

"That's my baby," Tonisha said. "I remember you."

The next morning, Justice was on the second-floor balcony of a tidy apartment complex on the west side of Beaumont, swinging around her mother's leg, a smile on her face, her red gingham dress billowing behind her.

There were suggestions of home. A scooter was outside the apartment and, inside, a chicken was baking in the oven. Justice's father, Joshua Lonzo, was tying on an apron getting ready to go to work at a grocery store.

But like half a million evacuees who remain scattered across the country, Justice's family is still unsettled. Nothing feels familiar. They are still learning their way around the area. The stores don't carry the Cajun spices they had cooked with, or the white Bunny Bread they had used for sandwiches. Dinner is eaten on donated plates, in front of a donated TV.

Tonisha and Joshua Lonzo — she has recently taken his last name — were products of the New Orleans projects. Gangs ruled. Drugs were everywhere. As a boy, Josh watched more than one man get shot in the head. Only God, he says, knows how he and Tonisha chose the straight path.

They met at a party when they were 15. They lived across the railroad tracks from each other and went to different high schools but saw each other every day. Their friends joked that they had turned into an old married couple before their senior prom.

Four years ago, they had their first daughter, Taylor. They married a short time later. Tonisha worked as a cashier at a drugstore. Josh was a cook on a riverboat and drove a truck for an upholstery company.

"We were poor," said Tonisha, 25. "But we were making it."

They rented a little clapboard house in the 7th Ward. They bought a bedroom set on layaway. They went into the French Quarter for an occasional daiquiri and stopped by her grandmother's house on weekends for a slice of coconut pie.

On the day the storm came, they gave no thought to leaving the city, like tens of thousands of others. Generations of their family had stayed and ridden out storms and, in any case, they had little money and nowhere to go.

They went to the Superdome better prepared than most. They had crackers, sardines, smoked sausage. They had three changes of clothes for the girls and 25 diapers for Justice.

By the time they got out six days later, everything that had not been lost or stolen — a couple of boxed meals, some medicine, keys to a Dodge Intrepid they would never see again — fit into a child's suitcase decorated with the Cat in the Hat. The girls were covered in mud and urine. They had lost their shoes, so Tonisha had made them new ones, first by tying plastic bags around their feet, then by tearing strips of fabric from a pair of pants someone gave her.

When a military helicopter flew them to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Tonisha saw the flooded city. "I looked one way — water. I looked the other way — water. I couldn't believe my eyes," she said. "We had no idea what had happened."

The next day, a Navy plane flew them to Corpus Christi, Texas. After three weeks at a shelter, Tonisha got in touch with her aunt, Galintha Harden, who had also ended up in Texas. Her aunt told her about an apartment in Beaumont that a church had found for another relative, so Tonisha, Josh and the girls took a bus there.

Days after their arrival, Hurricane Rita slammed into the city. "The double whammy," Tonisha said. They fled again, 11 relatives in two cars. They stayed in a hotel in Lafayette, La., for two weeks.

Those were dark days. They were exhausted. Tonisha could not shake the putrid smell of the Superdome.

"I was crazy," she said. "I just kept smelling it, no matter how much we washed. I would sit and cry, cry, cry. Eventually, I realized that I had to stay strong for my kids. I realized that it could have been worse, because we were alive."

In October, Tonisha, Josh, the girls and three other relatives moved into the $550-a-month two-bedroom apartment in Beaumont. By then, Tonisha had discovered she was three months pregnant.

It was not an easy pregnancy; doctors hospitalized her for two months because her amniotic fluid was too low and her blood pressure too high. Josh had found work as an automotive technician. But juggling the girls' care and his job proved too much. After he was late to work a couple of times — even after bringing a note from Tonisha's doctor explaining that she was in the hospital — he was fired.

They were so strapped for money that at one point they borrowed a car and drove 260 miles to New Orleans to recover $240 in cash that Tonisha remembered she had left in the pocket of Josh's jeans. The money was with the electric bill that Josh was supposed to have dropped off that week.

Looters had already been inside their house but had missed the envelope. Tonisha washed the mold off each bill with soap and water.

While there, they salvaged what they could.

Some of Josh's trading cards survived, including an autographed Brett Favre football card he had wrapped in plastic. Tonisha recovered a bag of photos that had been on top of a bookshelf. Inside was the only record of their old life — photos of prom night, he in a tux and she in a silver gown, and of Taylor at her first birthday party, a handful of dollar bills pinned to her shirt in a New Orleans tradition.

They miss New Orleans — the pickled meat and the gumbo, the raucous parades held by the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. "But it's peaceful here," Tonisha said one recent afternoon, as her girls ran through the courtyard of their apartment complex and pretended to make spaghetti with a pile of twigs.

Justice is a typical toddler, "always looking for trouble," Tonisha said. She gets mad when told she cannot store her toys in the microwave. She is scared of bugs and loud noises. She uses a broomstick to flip on the lights. She is too little to remember the storm, or New Orleans. Tonisha figures that's for the best.

Zoey, the baby, was born in April. She sleeps between Tonisha and Josh. Justice and Taylor sleep in a single bed on the other side of a nightstand crowded with sippy cups, toys and the Bible that Tonisha and Josh recently bought to replace the one they lost in the flood.

Earlier this month, 10 months after Tonisha applied, FEMA gave them $10,000 to cover the contents of their house. They have received a bit of additional aid, from the Red Cross and from a local church. They have no health insurance; the children are covered through Medicaid. Josh, 24, has a new job working at the deli of a grocery store. He makes $7.80 an hour. The three paychecks that come into the apartment are pooled; they total about $700 a week, which pays for rent, bills and food for eight, but not much more.

On July 4, Tonisha's aunt was driving the car they all shared when she was rear-ended by a woman with no insurance. The girls' car seats had been stored in the trunk, which was so badly damaged they couldn't get in to retrieve them.

Tonisha and osh needed a car of their own. Josh found an ad asking $4,500 for a 1997 Chevrolet Suburban. It was big enough for all of them, but the purchase would sap about a third of their net worth — and the car had nearly 200,000 miles on it.

Tonisha and Josh borrowed her aunt's crumpled car and drove to the seller's house in a middle-class neighborhood. Josh hopped out to take a look. "What do you think?" he asked when he came back.

"It's up to you," Tonisha told him.

Josh took the Suburban for a spin. The seller told him that it had a new transmission and air conditioner. Josh paid, in cash, and drove it home.

"I just hope it lasts," Tonisha said as she pulled out behind him.

Justice had been in the car for a while, and was getting antsy. Without the car seats, she and Taylor were not strapped in: Taylor was sitting on top of a case of bottled water, and Justice scooted over to the window to peer out.

"Justice!" Tonisha yelled. "Get away from the door! You want to get hurt?" Justice slouched in the back seat and pouted. Tonisha fiddled with the radio, trying to distract her so she wouldn't cry. "Justice!" she called. "It's your song!"

It was Mariah Carey's "Fly Like a Bird." The song is a prayer for strength: "Don't let the world break me tonight…. I pray you'll come and carry me home." Justice bobbed her head to the beat, her braids swaying back and forth. Then she put her head on my shoulder and her hand on my arm. Soon, she was asleep.

I stared out the window, thinking about the storm, about everything I'd seen in the last year, about how silly it had been to think that a 2-year-old would be able to provide me with a happy ending.

Gold has covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their aftermaths for the last year.