Choppers with rescue air lift equipment were standing hours away, in the hundreds, and had not been deployed!
And why hadn't the choppers been sent?
Because Rumsfeld was engaged in a turf war, and it would take days before he finally sent in both troops and released the materiel.
The US military had hundreds of rescue choppers, many with airlift equipment, within practical range. As BOHICA points out below, there were people in the military who were shaking with rage at not being allowed to assist.
The article explains:
The search-and-rescue helicopters were not being used because Donald Rumsfeld had not yet approved their deployment—even though, as Lieutenant General Russ Honoré, the cigar-chomping commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, would later tell me, "that Wednesday, we needed to evacuate people. The few helicopters we had in there were busy, and we were trying to deploy more."
Even a singularly obtuse George W Bush began understanding something was wrong, and in the end turned on his recalcitrant SecDef. But would you believe it - still it would take days before Rumsfeld gave the orders.
The article is worth reading in full. Personally I was convinced that Rumsfeld was a deeply delusional man, but the article makes it clear that he was dangerously delusional, and that the Bush presidency has him and Cheney to thank for a legacy that will go down in infamy. (Plus, of course, Bush's general cluelessness, disrespect of the obligations of the presidency and the Constitution, and incredible disrespect for the rule of law.)
Bush convened a meeting in the Situation Room on Friday morning. According to several who were present, the president was agitated. Turning to the man seated at his immediate left, Bush barked, "Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?"
Rumsfeld replied by trotting out the ongoing National Guard deployments and suggesting that sending active-duty troops would create "unity of command" issues. Visibly impatient, Bush turned away from Rumsfeld and began to direct his inquiries at Lieutenant General Honoré on the video screen. "From then on, it was a Bush-Honoré dialogue," remembers another participant. "The president cut Rumsfeld to pieces. I just wish it had happened earlier in the week."
The battlefield briefing cover sheets with biblical quotations can be seen at the slide-show that GQ has put up. The images are exclusive to them, and I can't place one here. I also expect them to get a lot of attention in the MSM, while what Rumsfeld did to NOLA and the region could risk getting lost in the background.
The article has a link to the cover-sheets mentioned by Frank Rich.
UPDATE: A few commenters feel that this somehow could be seen to exonerate Bush for his general lack of initiative and leadership during Katrina. Of course it doesn't, but Bush had a perfectly human reaction, while in the operations center discussing the relief effort, once it finally got under way. While I doubt you'll find anyone who thinks less of Bush than I do, I do not find that his reaction ("The president cut Rumsfeld to pieces"), as reported in the GQ article lacks credibility. By then Bush knew that his presidency was going to be tainted by his and his top administration officials' inattention to the disaster.
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