In Katrina's Wake: The Blame Game

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., center, pauses during a press conference with Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., left, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D- Md., right, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2005 in Washington. AP

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina struck, state and federal officials say they are finally beginning to work together. But no one is denying all the mistakes — some of them fatal — that have occurred.

And finger-pointing abounds — much of it aimed at the the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director Michael Brown — who some critics want fired.

The top U.S. disaster official waited hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss sending at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to support rescuers, internal documents show.

Acknowledging that moving in such a large crew of workers would take two days, Brown sought approval from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29.

With debate over the slow pace of rescue in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf states growing ever angrier and louder, House leaders met Tuesday night with the Bush cabinet to discuss the situation.

Also, members of Congress are speaking in public and on television to voice their concerns.

Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott couldn't help himself. He began attacking the beleaguered FEMA director.

"If he doesn't solve a couple of problems that we've got right now, he ain't going to be able to hold a job because what I'm going to do to him, ain't going to be pretty," Lott said.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is among those who think Brown is not doing an adequate job. She told Hannah Storm of The Early Show that to Hurricane Katrina is that FEMA is now operating under the Department of Homeland Security. She's sponsoring a bill to pull the agency out from under that umbrella.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Tuesday that Brown should step down.

The FEMA criticism flew from both current and former officials. Jane Bullock was FEMA'a chief of staff during the Clinton administration under the leadership of Director James Lee Witt. In an interview with CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras, Bullock placed the blame for the slow, stumbling federal response squarely on the shoulders of the Bush administration.

"One of the questions I had early on is, 'Who's in charge?' Is it Mike Brown? Is it Chertoff? You don't really know. And I think that's going to be a continuing and even worse problem as we get into the recovery," Bullock told Assuras.

What should be more troubling than current stumbles, Bullock said, is that America does not seem to be prepared for the next "big one."

"We all should be very nervous," Bullock said. "If this is how they respond to a disaster that they know is happening, or know is coming — a hurricane — how are they going to respond to a dirty bomb that they don't know? I think the system is broken."

Others are more critical of actions by state and local governments.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says the House and Senate should conduct a bipartisan investigation of how local, state and federal governments prepared for and responded to the hurricane.

But local officials in Baton Rouge are now directing the rescue effort that seems to finally be making a difference. As CBS News 48 Hours correspondent Peter Van Sant reports, it has come only after days of national shame.

"This is bureaucracy at its worst and this bureaucracy at its worst has committed murder in the New Orleans area," Aaron Broussard, who heads a local parish just outside New Orleans, told Van Sant. "When the autopsies are finally done, they're gonna find, horribly, that many people died many days after Mother Nature had come and gone — an atrociously high number of people who could have been saved if the time had been used wisely from the beginning."

  • Scott Benjamin

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