US govt admits Katrina lapse

2006-02-16 07:53

Washington - United States Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday acknowledged widespread lapses in the government response to Hurricane Katrina as a Congress report blasted the official failures.

Chertoff told incredulous senators that when he went to bed on the night of the storm, which killed about 1 300 people, he did not believe that Katrina had been as bad as many people had predicted.

But Chertoff took the blame for much of the criticism of government since the August 29 hurricane that devastated much of New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast.

"I'm accountable and accept responsibility for the performance of the entire department, the bad and the good," he told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

"There are many lapses that occurred," he admitted.

"It is completely correct to say that our logistics capability in Katrina was woefully inadequate," Chertoff added, while promising changes by the time the next hurricane season starts in June.

Chertoff said he had no idea of the extent of the devastation on the night of the hurricane August 29.

"When I went to bed, it was my belief - and it was somewhat fortified by things I saw on TV - that, actually, the storm had not done the worse that had been imagined," he told senators.

He said his department had told him there were some reports of breaches of levees in New Orleans but nothing had been confirmed. In reality Katrina tore through water defences around the city causing floods to 75% of New Orleans.

Michael Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told lawmakers last week that breaches were confirmed to him on the evening of August 29.

On top of the death toll, about 300 000 homes were destroyed in three states and the government has spent tens of billions of dollars on aid and reconstruction efforts since.

Separately, a report by a select committee of House of Representatives Republicans was released on Wednesday which concluded that planners had failed to act on warnings before Katrina laid waste to New Orleans and the surrounding region.

"Our investigation revealed that Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare," lawmakers said in the report.

President George W Bush's administration has also faced scathing criticism from a congressional watchdog which said millions of dollars in Katrina aid was given to people who had provided false identities and addresses.

The report said Bush's White House advisors had neither checked the incoming information nor reacted fast enough to the disaster.



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