George W. Bush and Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans and in surrounding communities in the Gulf of Mississippi on Monday, August 29, 2005.  In the days following the hurricane, there was a bizarre and fatal lack of federal leadership as the levees were breached and desperate residents sought refuge in the Superdome and at the Convention Center.

By Thursday, leaders on the ground were making appeals on television.  Mayor Ray Nagin sent out a “desperate SOS,” pleading for resources and supplies. New Orleans Homeland Security Director Terry Ebbert reported: “This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace. FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control.”  On Friday morning, Bush staffers showed the president a compilation of TV reports on Katrina, in an attempt to help him realize the magnitude of the situation.  Later that day, he would infamously praise FEMA head Michael Brown for “doing a heck of a job.”  Brown resigned a week later over his mismanagement of the Katrina response.

In his September 15 speech in New Orleans’ Jackson Square quoted on this panel, Bush accepted responsibility for many of the failings of the government response, and said that “this government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina,” but for many people, the response was too little and much too late.