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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/30/AR2006013001339.html
Pre-Katrina Emergency Plan for Elderly Faulted

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006; A07

Louisiana officials did virtually nothing to prepare to evacuate poor, sick or elderly people as required under a state emergency plan adopted months before Hurricane Katrina hit, according to newly released documents.

State Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry told Senate investigators that he was assigned the task in April, months before the Aug. 29 storm. But his department had no buses or drivers to execute the mission.

"We have done nothing to fulfill this responsibility," Bradberry said, according to a transcript of a Dec. 21 deposition obtained by The Washington Post. "We put no plans in place to do any of this."

Bradberry approved the plan, "but I signed it under the condition that I wanted to keep things moving. . . . We had issues with that, because we didn't feel like we were the best, quote, 'agency,' or group to coordinate that," he said.

Anticipating 100,000 New Orleans residents might be left behind, state officials spent hours "agonizing" over how to move them in a joint exercise months earlier involving a hypothetical "Hurricane Pam" striking southeast Louisiana, according to a transcript of a Jan. 6 statement by Dolph Diemont, a U.S. Department of Transportation official.

"We said, 'Oh, this is so huge, we're going to need so many buses, we're going to need all of this planning and communications and cooperation, coordination, all of this to come together.' It's really a massive effort," Diemont said.

In the end, hundreds of New Orleans school buses were left idle in flooded parking lots after Katrina because their drivers fled. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and Mayor C. Ray Nagin have said the Katrina evacuation was much more successful than expected, but they faulted the federal government for not swiftly delivering help.

Sick and infirm people accounted for a large share of storm deaths, in part because of a lack of special transportation. Before Hurricane Rita hit near Houston on Sept. 24, the United States staged 650 buses nearby and arranged medical airlifts.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who heads the Senate investigation into evacuation problems, called the event "disturbing."

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said, "No one assumed the responsibility to ensure that the pre-landfall evacuation of New Orleans would be complete."
2006 The Washington Post Company