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The Guardian/UK

The Legacy of Katrina

The Events In New Orleans Exposed The Bush administration as Callous and Incompetent. And Neither The City Nor The Administration Have Recovered in The Two Years' Since.

Michael Tomasky

Here, on this second anniversary in the US of Hurricane Katrina, it's worth looking back over the events of that fateful day. Fateful isn't too strong a word: It was on August 29, 2005, and over the next three or four days, that the presidency of George Bush fell into the toilet from which it has never emerged.If you're still not sure exactly why, this timeline will help explain things. There are several such timelines online from which this abbreviated one is drawn.

Sunday, August 28, 2005, 9:30am: New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin orders the complete evacuation of the city.

Same day, 11:30am: Bush, vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, gives a speech consisting of exactly 203 words about Katrina, and 819 words congratulating the Iraqis on their new constitution.

Same day, late evening: 30,000 people gather in the Superdome to hunker down for the storm, with 36 hours' worth of food. The Louisiana National Guard requests 700 buses.

Monday, August 29, 7am: Hurricane Katrina makes landfall.

7:30am: The first levee in New Orleans is breached.

Mid-morning: Bush receives two warnings, from then-FEMA director Mike Brown and from the head of the national hurricane center, that this is "the big one" (Brown's words).

Around the same time: Bush holds a photo-op with Senator John McCain on an airport tarmac in Arizona, presenting McCain with a birthday cake.

Late morning: The crucial 17th Street levee is breached.

Around the same time: Bush leaves McCain and visits an Arizona resort to participate in a forum with hand-picked senior citizens about his prescription-drug benefit plan.

Same day, 4:40pm: Bush appears at another prescription-drug event, this time in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He briefly addresses Katrina, seemingly unaware of the facts of the situation: "It's a storm now that is moving through, and now it's the time for governments to help people get their feet on the ground."

Same day: Dick Cheney continues on his vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he stayed until early September. Donald Rumsfeld attends a San Diego Padres baseball game.

Tuesday, August 30, early afternoon: Reports of widespread looting and chaos begin to emerge. Homeland security chief Michael Chertoff acknowledges that levees have been breached.

Same day, 2pm: Bush holds a photo-op event at a San Diego naval base with country singer Mark Wills. Wills presents Bush with a guitar, with which Bush poses, smiling broadly and pretending to play.

Same day, shortly thereafter: Bush returns to Crawford to resume vacation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005, midday: reports emerge of 80,000 people trapped in the city; tens of thousands stranded in the Superdome without adequate facilities and water; 3,000 stranded in the city's convention hall under similar conditions.

Same day, shortly thereafter: Chertoff says "We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy."

Same day, that afternoon: Bush flies over the damage in Air Force One but does not touch down.

Same day, 4pm: Bush finally gives first address on Katrina. The New York Times says his demeanor is "casual to the point of carelessness."

Same day, 7pm: Condoleezza Rice, visiting New York, attends musical Spamalot! Some audience members boo her. Later she would visit the damaged areas in her home state of Alabama, urging patience: "The Lord is going to come on time - if we just wait."

Thursday, September 1, 2005, 7am: Bush says live on television, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Subsequent revelations show he was told several times before they did that the levees might break.

Same day, mid-afternoon: Nagin delivers "desperate SOS" to federal government. Reports begin to emerge from New Orleans of rapes, beatings, lootings. Brown finally learns, at least 24 hours after the fact, about the thousands stranded in the convention hall.

Same day, mid-afternoon: Rice, still in New York, buys about $3,000 worth of shoes at Ferragamo.

It goes on in this vein, but you get the idea. The next day, Bush finally visited New Orleans. Several reports at the time indicated that vital services and rescue-workers, including 50 firefighters from Atlanta who'd come to the region to help people, were diverted away from the scene of the flooding to serve as backdrops for presidential photo-ops. Levee repair work was orchestrated for his visit, and then stopped immediately thereafter.

Some months later, a video emerged from August 28 in which Bush was briefed on the growing tragedy - and in which he does not ask one single question as the situation is outlined to him.

That's this presidency in a nutshell: substantive incompetence and indifference at every turn, yet great care taken with the photo-ops. This was the week that sunk the Bush presidency, and deservedly so. What a tragedy that one of America's greatest cities had to sink as collateral damage. Michael Tomasky is editor of Guardian America.

© 2007 The Guardian

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