NBC News Transcript: FEMA Officials More Concerned About Dinner For Mike Brown than Feeding People in New Orleans

NBC News Transcripts

SHOW: NBC Nightly News 6:30 AM EST NBC

October 19, 2005 Wednesday

HEADLINE: August 31st e-mails show FEMA's lack of concern over flooding in New Orleans





NBC News IN DEPTH tonight. We have an exclusive story from our investigative team that takes us back, once again, to that awful week of Katrina in New Orleans, when Americans watched the misery on television and wondered, `Where is the help?' Tonight NBC News has obtained several e-mails from inside FEMA that certainly suggest the warnings coming from New Orleans were not the only priority. NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has our exclusive story.

LISA MYERS reporting:

Wednesday, August 31, much of New Orleans is under water. A FEMA official inside the Superdome sends an urgent Blackberry message to his boss, director Michael Brown. Marty Bahamonde, said to be Brown's eyes and ears within the city, writes, "The situation is past critical. Hotels are kicking people out. Thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Estimates are many will die within hours."

Bahamonde tells Senate investigators he doesn't remember getting a response to that e-mail but later was forwarded this one. Brown's press secretary fretting about Brown's dining plans for that evening. "It is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner," she writes. "Given that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes."

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): That's just appalling.

MYERS: Senator Susan Collins says Brown's inner circle seemingly failed to grasp the urgency of Bahamonde's warnings.

Sen. COLLINS: There's this extraordinary disconnect between what he's reporting and the reaction back in Washington.

MYERS: Bahamonde expressed his frustration about the dinner e-mail, writing, "Oh, my God! Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and went to the bathroom in the hallway of the Superdome, along with 30,000 other close friends, so I understand her concern about busy restaurants."

Bahamonde also says officials at all levels of government failed to act on his early warnings that this key 17th Street levee had failed. He says local and FEMA officials had 16 hours to warn the public, and no one sounded the alarm.

Mr. JOHN COPENHAVER (Former FEMA Official): People should have been told that New Orleans was going to flood.

MYERS: Today in Congress, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff disputed FEMA director Brown's claim that state and local officials were to blame for the debacle.

Mr. MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Secretary of Homeland Security): I'm not going to judge others. I did not have a problem dealing with state and local officials.

MYERS: Today a homeland security spokesman did not dispute the e-mails, but says they don't present the whole picture of FEMA's efforts. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.