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All Wet

Hurricane season is about to hit, but Washington, D.C., is still flooded with backwash from Hurricane Katrina. Last week, the Center for Public Integrity released 928 pages of e-mail messages to and from former FEMA head (and current Coloradan) Michael Brown. The e-mails, which the center received seven months after filing a Freedom of Information Request, stretch from just days before Katrina struck to September 8, 2005, and are filled with blacked-out lines and juxtapositions that would be hilarious if they weren't so deadly serious.

At 6:21 a.m. on August 29, Brown e-mailed FEMA's chief of staff that he was "sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair." Ignored for many hours was a message sent to TV star Brown at 9:36 a.m., warning that a levee had been breached.

Congress had already sampled some of these e-mails, including tidbits about Brown's fondness for margaritas, his blue shirt from Nordstrom, and his e-mail to a colleague on August 31 — after New Orleans had flooded — thanking him for the update and asking if there was "anything specific I need to do or tweak?" But this collection also includes the message that prompted the "tweak" response: "Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know. Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes. The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome..."

After that, horror piles on horror, with the media questioning not just FEMA's response to the disaster, but Brown's credentials — including his departure from his previous job with the Colorado-based International Arabian Horse Association. And that's not the only time Colorado appears here. Page 821 is an e-mail from Fran Santagata, Homeland Security & All Hazards Coordinator and a special assistant to Governor Bill Owens, who asks Brown whether FEMA will be reimbursing hospitals for evacuees' care. After bouncing from bureaucrat to bureaucrat (the messages go on for pages), Brown finally weighs in at 5:44 p.m. September 7: "Folks, let's get this settled."

Five days later, Brown's fate at FEMA was settled. He resigned, and is now back in Colorado running a disaster-consulting company. Santagata no longer works for the state. -- Patricia Calhoun


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