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Gov. Blanco Releases Katrina Memos

December 04, 2005|Connie Mabin | Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — As Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, a series of letters passed between the governor and the White House that reveal delays, claims that requests for federal help weren't received, and concerns on both sides about public relations.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco late Friday released 100,000 pages of memos, handwritten notes, e-mails, phone logs and other documents requested by congressional committees investigating what happened behind the scenes in the frantic days surrounding the deadly Aug. 29 storm.

Among those documents are the communications between Blanco's office and the White House, starting with a letter Blanco sent President Bush a day before the hurricane hit.

"I have determined that this incident will be of such severity and magnitude that effective response will be beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments and that supplementary federal assistance will be necessary," Blanco wrote.

Three days after the storm, Blanco wrote Bush asking that the 256th Louisiana National Guard Brigade be sent home from Iraq to help. She also asked for more generators, medicine, health workers and mortuaries.

Five days later, Bush assistant Maggie Grant e-mailed Blanco aide Paine Gowen to say that the White House did not receive the letter.

"We found it on the governor's website but we need 'an original,' for our staff secretary to formally process the requests she is making," Grant wrote. "We are on the job but appreciate your help with a technical request. Tnx!"

The stack of documents also includes a timeline put together by Blanco's staff detailing the state response; notes expressing frustration about missing items such as a communications center for police and rescuers promised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and police reports, including logs of calls from people trapped by flooding.

Other exchanges between the governor's staff and the White House show public relations was a priority for both administrations. Although Blanco's office wanted to blame the federal government, the documents show that her staff didn't want it to appear as if the federal government was seizing state power.

Blanco had been scheduled to visit evacuees in Houston on Sept. 5, but spokeswoman Denise Bottcher disliked the idea of the governor being out of state on the day Bush came to visit New Orleans. "Reinforces the notion that she's not in charge and LA needs to be federalized," she e-mailed Andy Kopplin, Blanco's then-chief of staff. The governor stayed to meet the president.

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