WASHINGTON- Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn), Thursday delivered the following statement at a committee hearing entitled, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: A Flooded City, A Chaotic Response:
“Marty Bahamonde was the first and, for too long, just about the only FEMA employee on the ground in New Orleans. He arrived before Hurricane Katrina hit and rode out the storm in the city’s emergency operations center and ended up being one of the very small group of FEMA workers in New Orleans for a full three days after the storm. “During that time, Mr. Bahamonde offered invaluable first-hand information to his FEMA superiors, and was of great help to the thousands of people trapped in inhumane conditions at the Superdome. “I consider Marty Bahamonde’s actions in New Orleans to be heroic, but the jolting fact is that he was an accidental hero. He is not a member of a FEMA Emergency Response Team, a FEMA Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or a FEMA Operations group of any kind. Marty Bahamonde is a FEMA Public Affairs Officer sent to New Orleans to advance former FEMA Director Michael Brown’s expected trip there, and to provide information to Mr. Brown about what was happening in New Orleans. “Mr. Bahamonde’s story is powerful and moving, and I will leave it to him to tell it. But his story is also deeply troubling in fact, ultimately infuriating, and raises serious questions which our committee’s investigation must answer. “Why, after the National Weather Service so clearly predicted on Friday, August 26, that Katrina would be a Hurricane of Category 4 or 5, the big-one long-feared and likely to drown New Orleans, could FEMA manage to get a Public Affairs Officer into New Orleans the next day, Saturday, but took until Tuesday morning to send a single Disaster Medical Assistance Team, and until Tuesday afternoon for a small four person FEMA Emergency Response Team to arrive? So, a FEMA Public Affairs Officer, makes it in on Saturday, but the DMAT and ERTs didn’t make it until Tuesday. That is unbelievable and unacceptable. “In light of the fact that Mr. Bahamonde began sending reports to his superiors on Sunday of swelling crowds and significant humanitarian needs at the Superdome, why did FEMA send so few medical assistance and emergency response personnel to the scene? “In Mr. Bahamonde’s testimony this morning, we will hear that on Monday, August 29, the day Katrina hit landfall, he reported to FEMA first in late morning emails, then later in the day in phone conversations including one directly with Michael Brown, that some levees around New Orleans had broken and that 80 percent of the city was underwater. Why then have Secretary Chertoff (as recently as yesterday before a House Committee) and Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers said the levees were not breached until Tuesday or at least they did not learn of the levees failing until Tuesday? “We will hear this morning from Mr. Bahamonde that he told everyone he possibly could up to Michael Brown, that the levees broke early Monday, and New Orleans was drowning, and yet Secretaries Chertoff and Rumsfeld and General Myers say they didn’t know until Tuesday. How could that be? “This disconnect between what Marty Bahamonde saw and will say this morning, and what Secretaries Chertoff and Rumsfeld have said is beyond disturbing. It is shocking. Our investigation must find out what happened to Mr. Bahamonde’s reports from New Orleans? Who received them in the Administration and what did they do with them? Does the answer to these questions help explain the painfully slow response of DHS, FEMA, and DoD to Hurricane Katrina and the human suffering in New Orleans? “Those are critical questions our investigation must answer. “The testimony we will soon here from Marty Bahamonde will leave us better informed, but, I believe, also much more troubled by how the federal government responded to Hurricane Katrina. “I thank you Mr. Bahamonde for your dedicated work before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina hit land, and for your important testimony this morning. And I promise you that this committee will do everything we can to make sure that nothing like the chaos and suffering you witnessed and tried so hard to stop in New Orleans will ever happen in America again.