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BowlAfter Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in August 2005 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) purchased more than $85M worth of basic supplies for storm victims. For more than two years, until last month FEMA let the supplies sit in warehouses at a cost of $1M/year.

During that two year period local government officials and non-profit relief organizations in Louisiana and Mississippi made repeated public pleas for donations of the exact sort of items FEMA had already purchased and were even stored locally.

That these supplies people have needed for years just sat in warehouses until mid-June of this year is bad enough, but FEMA was able to find a way to make this story even more sad and depressing the way only George Bush's administration can.

The supplies (GSA now says it is only $18.5M—we can't count) called Living Kits included towels, shirts, pants, shoes, coffee makers, pillowcases, dinnerware, blankets, pots and pans, buckets, and cleaning supplies. You know the stuff people need to live when they have lost everything and are living in trailers.

So FEMA kept all its stuff under lock and key because as a spokesperson told CNN:

We were not notified that there was a great need for this particular property.

Really, no great need! You have got to be fucking joking. I guess somebody needed to put together a Bush-style post-Katrina DVD for our national emergency agency so they were aware close to 250,000 folks are still living in FEMA provided trailers and housing.

So in June of this year with a single stroke of a pen, FEMA officials declared all the goods purchased for Katrina victims surplus and developed a plan to distribute them to other federal and state government agencies (including prisons).

But before they shipped off all the supplies (121 truckloads) they of course sent a representative out to state and local agencies, non-profit aid organizations, and churches just to double check that there wasn't a need.

Well not really, I just made that up! That would be logical. Not only didn't they sent anybody out for a face-to-face meeting, they didn't even place one phone call or send a single e-mail on this topic.

Just for a little context.

This is a FEMA warehouse less than two months ago with the said supplies.


This is a warehouse, sorry abandoned church used by UNITY of Greater New Orleans as we speak. Yeah, no need here at all.


When the Congressional delegations from Louisiana and Mississippi found out this shocking information from a CNN investigative story they went ballistic (video of the story here). Of course FEMA officials expressed, as you might expect, outrage, cause after nearly three years of rank incompetence and untold billions in waste and fraud how could something like this happen on their watch?

And since the Bush Administration officials have fake outrage down to an art form they of course promised a full investigation, meaning they will wait until the scandal disappears from the headlines before throwing some low-level bureaucrat under the bus.

But that was not enough for Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. They requested FEMA:

Come and tell the committee how such a debacle could occur, and in the process, what are they going to do to assure Congress and the taxpaying public that it will never happen again.

Last Thursday in a pretty rare joint congressional hearing of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees officials from FEMA and the General Services Administration (GSA) got it from both sides of the aisle (some of the audio is here).


During the hearing Eric Smith, FEMA's assistant administrator for logistics management kept to the same tired talking points when pressed on why the supplies were not distributed to folks that needed them:

They were returned to us after they were not used from different areas—Mississippi, Louisiana.

Landrieu said to Smith:

FEMA never told state officials or relief agencies involved in recovery efforts that the Living Kits meant to resettle hurricane survivors were still available. How can people ask for something they don't know exists?

Smith's response was mind-numbing:

They have to have a need. If they have bona fide need, it's their responsibility to pass that need on.

Where have we heard this before? Maybe on Monday, August 29th 2005 when Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco called Bush, as more than 1,100 Americans were literally starting to drown and said:

Mr. President, we need your help. We need everything you’ve got!

But days, weeks, and even months later she'd be blamed by the White House cause she didn't say exactly what she wanted/needed. I guess in almost three years we still have not got this not so little problem figured out.


You see Mr. Smith when you have pictures like the above, and there are hundreds more like it, even one where a family wrote in duct tape on their roof:

We are Americans, please help, some can't swim.

When you endure something like what happened as the lead agency that is supposed to ensure it doesn't in fact happen, more fucking lame excuses almost three years after the fact just don't cut it.

But thankfully Landrieu also would have none of his BS:

It's like if a house was on fire. If the fire department operated the same way FEMA does, we would have to call the fire department and specifically request the hose, the pressurized water, the truck, the firefighters and the ladder, all before FEMA would acknowledge that they should send this equipment to help.

After the Congressional hearing a CNN reporter caught up with Smith and asked what mistakes were made? His response:

We did not really make any mistakes. Could things have been done better? Yes of course, but we followed our procedures.

To date only a couple truck loads of the supplies have been returned to Louisiana. None to Mississippi. But rest assured, FEMA told the committee they are still cataloguing what supplies it has left and they'll report back to the committee. But they do admit at least 90,000 of the Living Kits have already been distributed (they don't like to say, "given away").

I've already used enough words and I just don't really know what else to say other than I am ashamed as an America this has all happened as I was a taxpaying adult. What have we become?

I just want to end with a little quote from a BBC show I love called Top Gear. I've been watching it since 2005 and I can't ever recall them ever making a single political statement. They just drive the fastest cars in the world really, really fast.

They've only been to the US for one show. A challenge to drive from Miami to New Orleans. They got off the road right before they hit New Orleans in 2006 and had this to say (extended video here):

Finally though we made it. And my word were we in for a shock. We'd seen on the news what Hurricane Katrina had done. But seeing the devastation for real was truly astonishing.

Every house, I've been driving now for what 15 miles, and there isn't a pavement there isn't a building there isn't anything that isn't smashed. It is such a vast scale of destruction.

It had been a year since Katrina had blown through and we sort of assumed that the wealthiest nation on earth would have fixed it.

But we were wrong.

How can the rest of America sleep at night knowing this is here?

Some nights I don't sleep well. I just wonder what they'd say today almost three years later!

Originally posted to webranding on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 06:57 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My brother lives in NO, and was able to escape (10+ / 0-)

    Katrina.  He was one of the "lucky ones".  Barely any damage to his home (jeff. parrish).

    Everytime I need to donate clothes, etc. I pass them on to him to distribute -- especially to the women's shelter.

    I guess it's NOT going to be up to FEMA to fix things.  Concerned citizens will make the difference.

    Treat folks with no respect and be treated as if you are without respect.

    by fhamme on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 07:09:49 AM PDT

  •  Just when I thought I couldn't be shocked (11+ / 0-)

    again by the sheer incompetence of this administration - here comes a story that shocks me to my bones.  Unbelievable.  

    Damn it. Enough. I've had enough. And boy, does that word enough look weird when you type it enough times.

    by klnb1019 on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 07:17:13 AM PDT

  •  reposting my comment (15+ / 0-)

    about how republicans are tring to end the Head Start program
    From Friday by Brownsox
    Applies here too!

    denying little poor children some early schooling (8+ / 0-)
    Margaret Spelling and the failure of Republican Educational ideology

    Because education is the one thing that you can aquire that can make you more equal to other people.

    The Republican ideology is I will teach mine and you teach yours. You and i are not the same people.
    That was apparent during Katrina and even more obvious when the warehouse of emergency supplies was found recently.  Supplies were in store for emergencies, but the people of New Orleans weren't on the list.  

    "You and I are not the same people"

    Canadian Mormons send several truckloads of supplies and tents to the disaster and got there before FEMA but were turned away and sent away.
    I have good Mormon friends.......

    donate to a shelter box please

    by TexMex on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 07:21:08 AM PDT

  •  One can almost imagine truckloads of ice (12+ / 0-)

    still being trucked around..(in liquid form)...remember that part of the Katrina story?  How for 6 months there was this fleet of refrigerated truck driving around and around and around full of ice, at some absurd contracted price.

    Lemme see if it will google for me.

    •  From Democraticunderground 7/19/07 (13+ / 0-)


      Katrina, Ice Trucks, 85M Pounds, $12.5 Million & Poof! All Gone!
      Posted by orleans in General Discussion
      Thu Jul 19th 2007, 03:28 PM
      just in case you missed this story:

      85M Pounds of Ice Going Down the Drain
      Officials Melting Shipment Not Used After Hurricane Katrina Responders Overestimated Need
      WASHINGTON, July 15, 2007 —

      After Katrina hit, victims needed everything, including ice. The hurricane knocked out electricity, and ice was needed to preserve perishable food.

      After a slow start, FEMA trucked in more than 200 million pounds -- way too much, as it turned out.

      Stuck with the unused ice, FEMA put it back on trucks and sent it to storage centers all over the country -- even to far away Portland, Maine -- and paid storage costs, hoping to use it in a future disaster.

      Now, two years later, FEMA has decided it may be contaminated, and will finally dump it.

      "Their own regulations required that they dispose of the ice after three months," said Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a longtime critic of FEMA. "They could've tried to sell it on the open market. But to ship it around the country and spend money, the taxpayers' money, on two years of storage fees seems like the epitome of mismanagement and waste."

      We're talking big ice here -- 85 million pounds. How many gin and tonics could you ice with that? And how many people could you cool off who are pretty steamed about the waste?

      On Sunday in New Orleans, Lauren Michele Fields told ABC News, "The ice story, it's infuriating but completely believable and obvious that it happened."

      "It's been $12.5 million to store this ice for two years," said Beth Normile, "and I think people will be outraged and frustrated."

      A man who did not want to be identified agreed.

      "You would have thought after three months they would have thrown it away and let it melt," he said. "And yet, they're going to pay people money to store it. That's crazy."

      Now, the ice is melting, going down the drain. And so is more than $12 million of your money.

      •  pshew, found my answer,FEMA let is melt (9+ / 0-)

        right around July 07, thank god we aren't still trucking it around....

        In 2005, the truckers were earning $2 per mile and $900 per day to transport the ice, and many simply moved ice from one area of the country to the other, never delivering to a disaster site. Including shipping costs, the government paid more than $4 per 5-pound bag of ice purchased during Katrina relief, the Times reported. The same bag could have been purchased locally for about $1.50.

        Doncha know somebodies brother in law in the trucking biz was smiling?

        •  Here Is What I Wrote About The "Ice" (9+ / 0-)

          Can these stories get any worse? Some days it is almost impossible to find good news related to Katrina.

          When the definitive story of the confrontation between Hurricane Katrina and the United States government is finally told, one long and tragicomic chapter will have to be reserved for the odyssey of the ice.

          Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.

          The somewhat befuddled heroes of the tale will be truckers like Mark Kostinec, who was dropping a load of beef in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 2 when his dispatcher called with an urgent government job: Pick up 20 tons of ice in Greenville, Pa., and take it to Carthage, Mo., a staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

          Mr. Kostinec, 40, a driver for Universe Truck Lines of Omaha, was happy to help with the crisis. But at Carthage, instead of unloading, he was told to take his 2,000 bags of ice on to Montgomery, Ala.

          After a day and a half in Montgomery, he was sent to Camp Shelby, in Mississippi. From there, on Sept. 8, he was waved onward to Selma, Ala. And after two days in Selma he was redirected to Emporia, Va., along with scores of other frustrated drivers who had been following similarly circuitous routes.

          At Emporia, Mr. Kostinec sat for an entire week, his trailer burning fuel around the clock to keep the ice frozen, as FEMA officials studied whether supplies originally purchased for Hurricane Katrina might be used for Hurricane Ophelia. But in the end only 3 or about 150 ice trucks were sent to North Carolina, he said. So on Sept. 17, Mr. Kostinec headed to Fremont, Neb., where he unloaded his ice into a government-rented storage freezer the next day. "I dragged that ice around for 4,100 miles, and it never got used," Mr. Kostinec said.

          Let us not forget New Orleans. Visit Project Katrina.

          by webranding on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 07:59:22 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  My take on "We are the ones we have been (12+ / 0-)

    waiting for".  Our current government has nationalized religion and corporatized charity...neither of which works or smells right.  FEMA funding has become a way to not actively participate in disaster....and you see what we get for the money.  Some body rich got richer and some body incompetent and unprepared got a "job" with a fine list of talking points to make them feel better.  

    If we want peace, why do we give weapons and call it "aid"?

    by gdwtch52 on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 07:22:23 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for diarying this, webranding. (17+ / 0-)

    The response that "nobody asked for the stuff" was pretty appalling, but when it was revealed that people like UNITY, Common Ground, Habitat, NO Mission, etc. were never notified that such supplies existed, that's when I popped a gasket.


  •  I have been waiting for someone to write about (9+ / 0-)

    this, and have recced it and hope tons of people will read your diary.  When I first heard the FEMA response, I could not believe it and still cannot wrap my brain around Well, you have to ask for it.  

    The total incompetence of FEMA administrators is mind blowing.  'You have to ask for it' comes from a mentality that is staggeringly simplistic.

    I can do nothing more than just rant so will sign off now.  Thanks for the diary!

    "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

    by JFinNe on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 07:36:10 AM PDT

  •  Chasing down my ice hunch (wonder when they (7+ / 0-)

    finally let it melt??) found this little item in Topix with 103 comments folks could sift thru

    US News

    Nov 16, 2007
    FEMA Accused Of Wasting More Katrina Funding

    Washington Post The Federal Emergency Management Agency wasted about $30 million last year in maintaining trailers for Hurricane Katrina survivors in in Mississippi, according to a new government report. In one case cited, FEMA awarded contracts that could have cost as much as $229,000 to support one family in a single trailer -- roughly the price of a five-bedroom home in Jackson, Miss....

  •  from Naomi Klein (12+ / 0-)

    In the summer of 2004, more than a year before Katrina hit, the State of Louisiana put in a request to FEMA for funds to develop an in-depth contingency plan for a powerful hurricane.  The request was refused.  "Disaster mitigation" -- advance government measures to make the effects of disasters less devastating -- was one of the programs gutted under Bush.  Yet that same summer FEMA awarded a $500,000 contract to a private firm called Innovative Emergency Management.  Its task was to come up with a "catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the city of New Orleans."

    The private company spared no expense.  It brought together more than a hundred experts, and when money ran out, it went back to FEMA for more; eventually the bill for the exercise doubled to $1 million.  The company came up with scenarios for a mass evacuation covering everything from delivering water to instructing neighboring communities to identify empty lots that could immediately be transformed into trailer parks for evacuees -- all the sensible things that didn't happen when a hurricane like the one they were imagining actually hit.  That's partly because eight months after the contractor submitted its report, no action had been taken.  "Money was not available to do the follow-up," explained Michael Brown, head of FEMA at the time.  The story is typical of the lopsided state that Bush built:  a weak, underfunded, ineffective public sector on the one hand, and a parallel richly funded corporate infrastructure on the other.  When it comes to paying contractors, the sky is the limit; when it comes to financing the basic functions of the state, the coffers are empty. pages 518/519

    She goes on to remark:

    Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that had been pioneered in Iraq. page 519

    Partial list of the contractors paid:
    Halliburton's KBR (rebuild bases on the coast)
    Blackwater (to protect FEMA employees from looters)
    Parsons (bridge work in MS)
    Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill (build trailers)
    Kenyon (division of Service Corporation International, paid to remove bodies at $12,500 a victim)
    AshBritt (half a billion to remove debris, the work for which was sub-contracted )
    Lighthouse Disaster Relief (paid $5.2 million to construct a base camp for emergency workers that was never completed.)

    The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

    People should be going to jail over this.  I see no difference between what was done by the Bush administration and bank robbers.  

    It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. Alfred Adler

    by Quicksilver2723 on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 08:30:23 AM PDT

  •  Guess who will refuse to take advantage of this? (4+ / 0-)

    And as with a hundred other instances of mindboggling corruption and breathless incompetence by the Bush Administration and/or the GOP, the Obama campaign WILL NOT put together a stinging TV ad about this latest outrage and McCain's lapdog support of Bush. The most Obama or David Poofe will do is issue a sternly-worded statement stating how seriously miffed they are by those mean ol' Republicans, which will be ignored by the media, which the voters will not even be aware of.

    And while the Obama campaign is sitting complacently behind their laptops and sending out emails that everyone ignores, the McCainiacs will run another crazy TV ad seen by hundreds of thousands in key districts slamming Obama, which means in turn that Obama and his resident geniuses will be forced to spend the next week defending and rebutting. And of course while they're busy doing that, the McCainiacs are planning their next smear ad, and will do so confident that the Obama campaign will never, EVER take the gloves off themselves, and actually go after him aggressively on McCain's record of slavish devotion to Bush.

    Meanwhile, some anonymous person will put together a savagely effective Youtube ad about McCain, and will do so completely out of their own pocket, without any of the enormous fees paid to Obama's "brain trust," who rival Bob Shrum in hapless uselessness.

    •  Well I Might No Agree w/ Everything You Wrote (7+ / 0-)

      I am in fact working on said YouTube ad as we speak with a former co-worker that has both a video and audio production studio in his house.

      I wish I could say, as a huge fan of Obama, that he has lead on Katrina related issues. But just is not the case, not even close. And to be frank, I don't know why.

      •  PA is trending blue but there's (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        still a lot of red, and I have to say (as someone who lives in a blue dot within a BIG RED BLOTCH) McSame's ads are slick, they're running all the time during the local news, and they are complete lies that the low-information GOP voters here will lap up like soma-laced milk.

        Frankly, it scares me.  This has been going on since June; and Obama is hardly advertising at all.  And his ads are Kerry-esque; not hard-hitting.  My local station covers the entire Susquehanna Valley, from State College (home of Penn State) to Lancaster County.  That's a large chunk of the middle of the state to cede to the GOP.

        Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

        by Youffraita on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 11:55:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  another NOLA story.. (6+ / 0-)

    A friend of mine, a physician, worked triage in Baton Rouge during the immediate aftermath of the storm.  

    Patients were suffering from dehydration while FEMA turned three Wal-Mart trucks of bottled water away and would not allow the make-shift hospital to take delivery of the water.

    It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. Alfred Adler

    by Quicksilver2723 on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 09:26:23 AM PDT

    •  I Will Never Forget The Emails I Got (7+ / 0-)

      from a friend of my father and myself, the Dean of one of the colleges at LSU (we both went to grad school there).

      The one that said for the first time in American history a MASH unit had been set-up on our soil in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and helicopters were arriving 24 hours a day was about more than I could handle.

      On a side note the lady has since taken her blog down, but she went there with her husband (doctor) and took a ton of pictures and documented what was happening.

      She literally, along with a lot of other people working there used there own money to buy things like water, supplies to build shelves, food, you name it.

      It is really hard for me to wrap my mind around how wrong this whole thing was/is.

  •  It seems crazy that FEMA wouldn't DEFER to locals (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, kurt, Clio2, Youffraita

    in these cases: having the attitude of, "What do you need?", rather than, "You have to ask for what you need in order to get it."

    I'm also shocked that the agency does not employ both regional specialists and event specialists (for hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods -- whatever it might need to handle) so that it can be prepared to offer informed assistance or advice to local officials should they require it.  It also appears that the federal agency does not interact with the local governments very well or at all.  Before, I'd thought FEMA's reaction to Katrina (in my home state) could be attributed to non-locals misunderstanding the severity of the situation, combined with their belief that someone else within the organization was handling it.  I've come across that sort of behavior amongst the priviledged classes before, particularly in those who've been given positions of authority but who are incapable of managing.  (See:  Bush)
    This adds to the list of federal organizations that will have to be gutted should Obama win the presidency.  I hope that the "fresh start" needed for FEMA, the DOJ, the EPA, and other agencies to function correctly will be quick.  We've got a lot of work to do.


    •  My sig line at docudharma (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope.--Molly Ivins  

      sums up part of what you're saying.  The other part: well, it's by design.  If the government doesn't function, then that's yet another reason to out-source everything to the corporate world...thereby further enriching your corporate friends while leaving the poorest to starve or drown.  It's what the GOP has been trying to do for the past 30 years.  Under Chimpy, they are finally succeeding.  For them, his administration has been a rousing success.

      Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

      by Youffraita on Mon Aug 04, 2008 at 12:10:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Why didn't they help? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, kurt

    What can we do to prevent this from EVER happening again?

    •  I Don't Mean This To Not Sound Serious (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      luvmovies2000, kurt, Youffraita

      but elect Obama. When Clinton was in office FEMA worked really, really well. He actually put people in charge that knew what they were doing and gave them the funding they needed.

      Bush did the exact opposite.

      Also, the head of FEMA needs to be a Cabinet level position. Needs to be aware from the Department of Homeland Security.

      And finally, much more could have been done if around 30% of Louisiana's National Guard troops and around 60% of their equipment wasn't in Iraq.

      And finally, Congress has to hold the FEMA employees and contractors accountable.

      George Orwell is banging on the lid of his coffin and screaming, "1984 was a cautionary tale, you dolts, not a motivational speech!"

      by webranding on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 09:28:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  DHS (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nanobubble, webranding, kurt

        Effing needs to be dismantled. You should meet some of those guys from their HQ sometime. Strutting around, ego tripping on their power to harrass our own citizenry on a daily basis and terrorize any hapless person they deem suspicious...along with the ability to hand out nice juicy contracts to compliant pals in the security-industrial complex. Poisonous. Some of the constituent agencies maybe haven't been completely corrupted, only seeded, but we need to get them out of there before it's too late.  

  •  This makes me so fucking mad (5+ / 0-)

    I love New Orleans, have spent a lot of time there, have friends there, etc. Reading this kind of stuff just makes me insane.

    I was in NOLA visit about 6 months after the storm hit. For a week I stayed in a FEMA trailer that was parked on a friend's lawn.  The thing stunk of chemicals (formaldehyde as it turns out) so bad that if I didn't leave the windows open all the time I would feel sick.  And then occasionally some FEMA guy would come out to make sure that no one was messing up their trailers. Of course the FEMA inspectors were afraid to go around NOLA alone (those scary negroes) so they each needed two Blackwater security guys as bodyguards, which cost taxpayers $1400 an extra day times however many people they had on the ground. The waste...

    But this story about the emergency supplies just tops everything.  6 months after the storm most neighborhoods didn't even have an open supermarket or store where you could buy that kind of stuff. How can this guy Eric Smith even call himself a man? The worst administration of the century... these people won't even admit they fucked up.  It's evil...
    sorry for the rant people.  

    Recommended by:
    luvmovies2000, Reepicheep, kurt, Clio2

    Katrina victims were not victimized by FEMA due to incompetence but deliberately AND ONLY because the majority of them are black and voted Democratic in 2004.
    The money wasn't wasted. It was funneled into the right pockets.

  •  Heckuva job, Smithie! (0+ / 0-)

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