Sidebar: Where Are The Five Biggest Failures from Katrina Now?
Bush, Nagin, Blanco have faded from the spotlight but their impact hasn't
Hurricane Katrina remains one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to hit America, but many believe that the real disaster was man made, caused by a failure of leadership at every level of government. Below, a look at Katrina’s most notorious leadership letdowns, then and now.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco, former Louisiana Governor
THEN: The first woman elected Governor of Louisiana, her response to the disaster was so widely panned that she declined to run for re-election in 2007, this despite the fact that she famously said of Hurricane Katrina, "I believe we are prepared. That's the one thing that I've always been able to brag about."
NOW: Blanco, who is currently working on a memoir, was recently diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, though her spokesperson has described her prognosis as “favorable.”
Mayor Ray Nagin, former Mayor, New Orleans
THEN: Nagin was roundly criticized for failing to declare a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans until less than 24 hours before Hurricane Katrina touched down. Nagin has stated that he was hesitant to do so out of concern for the financial liability that could befall the city for closing businesses without proven cause. Six years later New Orleans and its residents are still struggling to rebound from financial devastation far greater than Nagin, or anyone else, could have ever imagined. Despite the criticism Nagin was re-elected Mayor in 2006, though his tenure was marked by controversy after controversy.
NOW: Nagin recently self-published a memoir titled, “Katrina’s Secrets: Storms after the Storm” and has begun serving as on-air disaster preparedness expert for various television networks. (No, that is not a joke.)
Michael Brown, former Director, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)
THEN: Every major tragedy is defined by one iconic moment or image. For Hurricane Katrina, that moment is when President George W. Bush said to FEMA Director Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Brown was assailed by Republicans and Democrats alike for inadequate response to the disaster and for being unqualified for the role of FEMA Chief in the first place. Republican Senator Trent Lott, whose Mississippi home was a Katrina victim said, “Michael Brown has been acting like a private, instead of a general,” while TIME magazine published evidence of embellishments on Brown’s resume that highlighted emergency preparedness experience he never really had.
NOW: Brown has remade himself into a disaster preparedness expert analyst for various media outlets, most notably criticizing President Obama on FOX News for what Brown deemed an insufficient response to the Gulf oil spill. (No, that is not a joke.) He also authored the memoir “Deadly Indifference: The Perfect Political Storm: Hurricane Katrina, The Bush White House and Beyond.”
Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security
THEN: The Homeland Security Act of 2002, created in the wake of the September 11th attacks, created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which absorbed the then 25-year old FEMA in 2003. As the second Secretary of Homeland Security, Chertoff (who succeeded former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in the post after Bernard Kerik’s nomination was undone by scandal) was ultimately the most senior government official in charge of FEMA. Though Chertoff managed to avoid much of the criticism heaped on FEMA head Michael Brown, a congressional investigation into Katrina failures criticized the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA for a lack of adequately trained staff and Chertoff specifically for not selecting a Principal Federal Official days before Katrina made landfall to begin federal preparations for a disaster of its anticipated magnitude.
NOW: Chertoff published an Op-ed in USA Today in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and co-founded The Chertoff Group, a global security consulting firm.
President George W. Bush, 43rd President
THEN: Despite unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a tragedy on U.S. soil which would largely define and mar Bush’s second term in office. He was criticized for not appointing leaders qualified to grapple with a disaster of Katrina’s magnitude (see Michael Brown) and for there being limited federal resources available to mount an adequate response due to the escalating costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Kanye West drew both jeers and cheers for his infamous take on the Bush administration’s Katrina response, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”
NOW: The former president released his memoir “Decision Points” in November, 2010, in which he said of his response to Katrina, "I should have recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster…The problem was not that I made the wrong decisions. It was that I took too long to decide.” Adding, "Just as Katrina was more than a hurricane, its impact was more than physical destruction…It eroded citizens' trust in their government. It exacerbated divisions in our society and politics. And it cast a cloud over my second term."