More from the Times transcript
THORNBERRY: OK. Now, obviously, if you’ve got an evacuation center, you’re going to have to figure out — you can’t just leave those people there. You have got to have some way to get them out.
And, according to some of the press reports, as early as Friday, before the storm hit, there were discussions at FEMA headquarters in Washington about the need to have buses in order to get people out.
What can you tell us about the plans and preparations for getting people out of the shelter once the storm had passed and that was possible?
BROWN: Headquarters had begun a planning process to bus people out of the Superdome. I don’t know whether they’ve actually gotten to the stage of contracting and collecting those buses, but they had planned to bus people out of the Superdome either to New Orleans International Airport or to other places to get them out of harm’s way.
That plan completely broke down when downtown New Orleans began to flood and the levees broke and you couldn’t get buses in there.
So that plan, obviously, went by the wayside.
THORNBERRY: You couldn’t get buses in or out?
BROWN: You couldn’t get buses in or out at that stage.
THORNBERRY: Now, my understanding further is that, by Tuesday, the day after the storm, the state folks started looking around trying to figure out how they were going to get people out there, started trying to put buses together, particularly school buses but the local officials were resisting that because they didn’t want their buses going down into this area where there was crime and violence.
Did you hear some of those conversations? Can you tell us what was happening then?
BROWN: I didn’t hear those conversations.
BROWN: But I did have that same general impression, that that was their concern, that the two concerns were: One, we can’t find a way to physically get the buses there because of the flood waters, and obviously school buses aren’t Humvees so you can’t move them into flooded areas; and, two, they were expressing concern not only about the reports of the violence and the anarchy but the unwillingness or the inability to find people willing, even if they could get there, to go into that area to take people out.
THORNBERRY: And what I’m trying to understand, I guess, is to what extent that was the city and the state’s job, to find buses to get in there and get those people out, and to what extent FEMA participated in it and could have done something else or more to get those people out.
BROWN: Well, we actually did do something else because we recognized that they could not. It’s their responsibility, but they could not do it.
And so that’s when we undertook the mission assignments to the Department of Defense to begin the airlift capability — not only the airlift capability of taking people out of the Superdome, but being able to treat them when they landed wherever they landed, whether it be New Orleans International or some other staging area.
But we would take those people out. And in fact, my first conversation with General Honore on Wednesday evening, that was probably the first topic that we discussed, was…
THORNBERRY: I’m sorry. Which evening?
BROWN: That was Wednesday evening.
THORNBERRY: So, Wednesday evening, the first topic you had with him is: How can we get people out of the Superdome?
BROWN: Yes. Not so much — let me rephrase it. Not so much how can we get people out of the Superdome, but that is one of our top priorities. I mean, you guys should have General Honore in here because it will be hugely entertaining.
I mean, Honore is — I got him on the phone; he was coming in and he’s a bull in a china closet — God love him. And I just had to sit down and say: OK, General, now, what are you willing to do? And just let me know what you’re doing so that we’re all on the same page here.
And I know that in the course of that conversation, the evacuation of the Superdome was one of the priorities.
THORNBERRY: My understanding is that, eventually, the governor signed an executive order that required parishes to turn over their buses to be available to take people out of the city of New Orleans. Is that true?
BROWN: I’ve heard that. I don’t know for a fact if it’s true or not.
THORNBERRY: My understanding, also, is that at some point FEMA stepped in to assemble a fleet of buses — about Wednesday — and within a couple of hours of a FEMA request, Greyhound put a bunch of buses together and could get them going toward the city.
Does that sound about right?
BROWN: That sounds right. And — yes, that sounds right.
The number of questions coming from this exchange are numerous.
Originally from the Trib by Andrew Martin and Andrew Zajac
First, if it’s not FEMA’s job, why do they have a contract with Landstar?
Instead the agency had farmed the work out to a trucking logistics firm, Landstar Express America, which in turned hired a limousine company, which in turn engaged a travel management company.
Though it was well-known that New Orleans, much of it below sea level, would flood in a major hurricane, Landstar, the Jacksonville company that held a federal contract that at the time was worth up to $100 million annually for disaster transportation, did not ask its subcontractor, Carey Limousine, to order buses until the early hours of Aug. 30, roughly 18 hours after the storm hit, according to Sally Snead, a Carey senior vice president who headed the bus roundup.
Landstar made inquiries about the availability of buses on Sunday, Aug. 28, and earlier Monday, but placed no orders, Snead said.
She said Landstar turned to her company for buses Sunday after learning from Carey’s Internet site that it had a meetings and events division that touted its ability to move large groups of people. “They really found us on the Web site,” Snead said.
A Landstar spokeswoman declined comment on how the company responded to the hurricane.
Why does he think no one would come to help?
Unbeknownst to them, two key players who could reach the owners of an estimated 70 percent of the nation’s 35,000 charter and tour buses had contacted FEMA seeking to supply motor coaches to the evacuation effort.
On the day the hurricane made landfall, Victor Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association, called FEMA’s Washington office “to let them know our members could help out.”
Parra said FEMA responded the next day, referring him to an agency Web page labeled “Doing Business with FEMA” but containing no information on the hurricane relief effort.
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Pantuso of the American Bus Association cut short a vacation thinking his members surely would be needed in evacuation efforts.
Unable to contact FEMA directly, Pantuso, through contacts on Capitol Hill, learned of Carey International’s role and called Snead.
Pantuso said Snead told him she meant to call earlier but didn’t have a phone number.
Finally, sometime after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Pantuso and Parra had enough information to send an SOS to their members to help in the evacuation.
By the weekend, more than 1,000 buses were committed to ferrying stranded New Orleans residents to shelters in Houston and other cities.
Even if the area was blocked, why were the buses not ordered for when they could get into the city? Remember, if they had been on hand, the Convention Center was directly below the only major way in or out of the City at the time. I have no comprehension of how someone wouldn’t think buses wouldn’t be useful.
Brown indicates in the hearing he was familiar with the Hurricane Pam exercise where federal authorities knew over 100,000 people would be left in the City alone. Federal officials said they could help at that exercise–why weren’t federal officials prepared then?
How could they have not gotten buses to the Superdome?
Look at the Satellite image from the 31st If you zoom down to the Convention Center–I can specifically see clear routes from the Crescent City Connector. In terms of the Superdome, you can get within a very short distance if not up to the front door. He’s still clueless about the entire situation. Here’s a dry map
How this man continues to delude himself is a fascinating story in itself.