Kathleen Blanco on Environment
Democratic LA Governor
"The governor is in charge," Mayor Ray Nagin said, pointing across the table at Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Every head pivoted in her direction. The Louisiana governor froze. She looked agitated and exhausted. "I think it's the mayor," she said noncommittally. Four days had passed since Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast. By law, state & local authorities lead the response to natural disasters, with the federal government playing a subordinate role.
I asked to speak to Gov. Blanco privately. I told her it was clear the state and local response forces had been overwhelmed. "Governor," I pressed, "you need to authorize the federal government to take charge of the response."
She told me she needed 24 hours to think it over. "We don't have 24 hours," I snapped. "We've waited too long already." The governor refused to give an answer.
When Blanco called the White House, Blanco told [a staffer], "Send everything you've got!" The staffer asked the governor what she needed. Blanco simply repeated she needed Washington to "send everything you've got!" The staffer told the governor she wasn't able to guess what the governor was requesting.
Later that day Blanco reached the president. "I just asked him for help," she later said. But this time she had a specific request--40,000 federal troops. But what Blanco couldn't say was what she needed them for, which would dictate the kind of units we would dispatch. Did she need engineering, medical, or other specialized support?
FEMA director Mike Brown asked Gov. Blanco to request that the administration federalize the effort on Tuesday, the day after Katrina hit. She declined.
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