Katrina levee break news spread fast

Feb. 9, 2006 at 11:59 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Congressional investigators have learned that the Homeland Security Department was told on Aug. 29 that a levee had broken in New Orleans, it was reported.

Bush administration officials have said they were caught by surprise when they learned on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken -- but the New York Times reports a Federal Emergency Management Administration official who witnessed flooding from the broken levee telephone a report to FEMA headquarters in Washington during the evening of Monday, Aug. 29.

The official, Marty Bahamonde, heard of a major breach Monday morning and caught a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter to see the flooding firsthand. Bahamonde telephoned a report to FEMA headquarters, which notified Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff's chief of staff in an e-mail at 9:27 p.m. on Aug. 29 that conditions "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting."

Michael Brown, director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, told the Times he notified the White House of the news that night, but he refused to name the official he notified.

White House officials have confirmed to congressional investigators that the report of the levee break reached the White House at midnight, the Times said.

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