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Documents Reveal FEMA Mistakes During Katrina

The Department of Fish and Wildlife of Kentucky helped to rescue flooded residents in New Orleans even though FEMA never officially tasked them with the mission.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
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The Department of Fish and Wildlife of Kentucky helped to rescue flooded residents in New Orleans even though FEMA never officially tasked them with the mission.

In documents released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, FEMA appears to have mismanaged offers of supplies and personnel from other agencies. FEMA also called off its search and rescue just three days after the storm.

Two documents in particular-- an internal FEMA email sent a few days after Katrina, and a letter from the Department of the Interior-- highlight some of the chaos of the rescue efforts.

The letter, written by Interior Assistant Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett, recounted how different agencies in the department prepared and responded to Hurricane Katrina.

It also recounted that immediately after the hurricane, the Interior Department "delivered to FEMA a comprehensive list of deployable assets that were immediately available for humanitarian and emergency assistance." These included dump trucks and other vehicles, heavy equipment, boats, aircraft, maintenance crews, law enforcement officers, rooms, campgrounds, and land sites for evacuee housing and FEMA staging.

The letter continued, "Although the (Interior) Department possesses significant resources that could have improved initial and ongoing responses, many of these resources were not effectively incorporated into the federal response."

The letter also suggested that this was due to FEMA's inadequate coordination of the different agencies' rescue abilities and equipment.

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, acknowledges the failures and says it is conducting its own investigation and evaluation of the rescue efforts.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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