Entries in Hurricane Katrina (2)


Obama Has Declared Record-Breaking 89 Disasters in 2011

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- From Hurricane Irene, which soaked the entire East Coast in August, to the Midwest tornadoes, which wrought havoc from Wisconsin to Texas, 2011 has seen more billion-dollar natural disasters than any year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

And as America’s hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires set records this year, so too has President Obama in his response to them.

During the first 10 months of this year President Obama declared 89 major disasters, more than the record 81 declarations that he made in all of 2010.

And Obama has declared more disasters -- 229 -- in the first three years of his presidency than almost any other president signed in their full four-year terms. Only President George W. Bush declared more, having signed 238 disaster declarations in his second term, from 2005 to 2009.

But while the sheer number of bad weather events played a big role in the uptick in presidential disaster declarations, Obama’s record-setting year may have something to do with politics as well.

“There’s no question about it that the increase in the number of disaster declarations is outstripping what we would expect to see, given what we observe in terms of weather,” said Robert Hartwig, the president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute. “There’s a lot of political pressure on the president and Congress to show they are responsive to these sorts of disasters that occur.”

While the president aimed to authorize swift and sweeping aid to disaster victims, Congress was entrenched in partisan battles over how to foot the bill. When Republicans demanded that additional appropriations for a cash-strapped Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) be offset by spending cuts, the government was almost shut down over disaster relief funding.

Such budget showdowns have become commonplace in Congress, but a similarly slow response to natural disasters by the president has been met with far more pointed and politically damaging criticism.  Former President Bush learned that the hard way after what was seen as a botched initial response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

Mark Merritt, who served as deputy chief of staff at FEMA during the Clinton Administration, said Obama’s record-breaking number of declarations has less to do with politics and more to do with demographics.
People are moving to high-risk areas like beaches and flood plains, more bad weather events are occurring and the country’s infrastructure is “crumbling,” he claimed.

Politics aside, Obama’s higher-than-ever number of disaster declarations may also have a lot to do with the broad scale of this year’s disasters, which led to more declarations of catastrophes because each state affected by the disaster gets its own declaration.

For example, Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992, cost upwards of $40 billion in damage, but resulted in only one disaster declaration because the damage was almost entirely confined to one state.

Hurricane Irene, on the other hand, pummeled much of the East Coast this summer, causing the president to make 9 disaster declarations, one for each state affected. Although there were 8 more declarations for Irene than for Andrew, the Irene caused about $7 billion in damage, a fraction of the damage caused by Andrew (up to $42 billion in today’s dollars).

Each presidential disaster declaration makes the federal government -- specifically FEMA -- responsible for at least 75 percent of the recovery costs, relieving cash-strapped state and local governments of the billions in damages caused by this year’s hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michael Brown: Karl Rove ‘Micromanaged’ Katrina Response

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Former FEMA director Michael Brown is out with a new book that makes an explosive charge: that Bush White House political guru Karl Rove sought to “micromanage search and rescue efforts from afar” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Brown’s clear implication was that Rove was playing political favorites in the wake of the tragedy. Brown writes that “Karl Rove became interested in Louisiana for the very practical reason” that a once solidly Democratic state could be turned red.

On ABC’s Top Line webcast Thursday, Brown was asked if Rove sought to inject himself into response and recovery efforts after Katrina.

“Oh absolutely, and it’s amazing to me that -- that you guys shouldn't be surprised by that,” Brown told ABC News. “What was happening was -- it boils down to this: Everybody was trying to gain some sort of advantage during the storm.”

“And if you had a favorite parish, or you had somebody you were trying to help, Karl was stepping in and he was making phone calls back to my staff saying, ‘Why aren’t we doing something over here?’ or 'Let’s go do this over here,’ or ‘This person in this parish needs this.’ Totally irrespective of what the overall game plan was to respond to this disaster.”

Rove responded to Brown’s charge that he sought to “micromanage” the Katrina response with a terse statement to ABC News: “Any such suggestion is not accurate.”

Asked if Rove reached out directly to him, Brown said no, but he said Rove did contact members of his staff. Brown said he has emails that prove that, and promised to provide them to ABC News.

Brown -- made famous as “Brownie” by President George W. Bush, who praised him as doing a “heckuva job” in the aftermath of the devastating 2005 storm -- was pushed out of his position as FEMA director after a response that was widely criticized as disorganized and inadequate.

Brown’s book -- Deadly Indifference: The Perfect (Political) Storm -- gives his side of the well-documented events surrounding Katrina. And he argues that FEMA remains ill-equipped to respond to natural disasters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News radio

ABC News Radio