August 30, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina made landfall only hours before. Estimates were coming in, but only estimates – the full extent of damage wouldn’t be known for several days, but on this day after landfall, Governor Katherine Blanco addressed the media to give an assessment at the damage and what could be expected in the coming days.
FEMA Director Mike Brown and Senators Landrieu and Vitter join Governor Blanco for a Blackhawk flight to survey Katrina’s damage on Tuesday morning. Their group meets with Mayor Nagin and receives an overview of the situation before returning to Baton Rouge. The Governor returns from the trip extremely concerned by the extent of the devastation and the limits of the State’s resources.
The floodwaters continue to deepen and encompass most parts of the city and area parishes also flooded from other effects of the storm. On Tuesday, floodwaters are still surging across New Orleans and surrounding neighborhoods from levee breaks. It is now becoming harrowingly clear that the dreaded “big one” has arrived, and the city that lies below sea level is in dire trouble.
As the extent of the flood damage becomes apparent, Governor Blanco meets with Leonard Kleinpeter and other members of her staff, ordering them to locate buses to evacuate people who remained in New Orleans. It was still unclear at this point how many bus evacuations would need to occur, but Kleinpeter begins lining up buses from local school districts and churches.
The Governor’s Office staff, under the direction of Kim Hunter Reed, sets up a call center and a staffing system to field the massive volume of incoming emergency rescue calls. The Governor orders that incoming calls are to be answered on an around the clock basis, as these incoming calls are primarily rescue requests and/or people seeking assistance in locating family members. Initially the calls are fielded directly from the Governor’s office. Later in the week, the Governor’s staff arranges for a higher volume 800-number to be issued, and relocates the operation to a call center at the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Motor Vehicles.
As floodwaters spread, the crowd surges beyond the initial evacuees at the Superdome. Initially many drive from their homes and arrive by car, with more arriving on foot and pushing family members on rafts as the water rises. Governor Blanco travels for a second time to the Superdome on Tuesday, to see for herself the developing situation as the communications systems are severely degraded. She wants to learn additional information and speak with the people who are gathering there. She sees that people are worried about being separated from their families in the rescue efforts, as so many are being forced to board separate boats. They say that the food and water lines are long, but the Governor is assured that at least there is food, water and medical care. With limited communications ability, it is difficult to calm nerves and communicate information to a crowd that large. The Governor leaves for Baton Rouge extremely concerned by the difficult situations these families face, and determined that the Superdome must be evacuated as soon as possible.
Governor Blanco calls General Landreneau after her return from the Superdome and expresses her escalating concern about the lack of significant federal resources to supplement the State’s efforts. She instructs the General to ask for all available assistance from the National Guard and the United States Government, specifically federal military assistance. The Governor wants to know the status of the troops and if he has any information about the pending arrival of the FEMA buses, as she plans to use them to evacuate the Superdome on Wednesday.
Major General Landreneau reports to the Governor that he receives a call from United States Army Lieutenant General Russ Honore and relayed to Honore their request for significant federal troops and resources. General Landreneau reports that he also asks National Guard Bureau Chief Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum to assist with generating additional assistance from the National Guard units from across the country to help with the effort, and the Governor is assured that General Blum begins to do so immediately.
Late on Tuesday night, Governor Blanco calls Ann Williamson, Secretary of the Department of Social Services, and instructs her to find a shelter by 6AM for at least 25,000 people.
Here is that Press Conference, as it aired on August 30, 2005.