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Old 09-28-2005, 12:09 AM
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Default Former FEMA head blames local authorities for Katrina failures

Reporter: Michael Rowland
PETER CAVE: The top US emergency official who resigned in disgrace over the botched handling of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, says it wasn't me, it was the local authorities.

Michael Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Agency, has told a congressional committee the stinging criticism of his performance was undeserved.

Washington Correspondent, Michael Rowland, reports.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Michael Brown's fall from grace was as quick as it was stunning. Just days after Katrina cut a swathe through Louisiana and Mississippi, when questions were already being raised about the federal response to the hurricane, Mr Brown was being singled out for praise from none other than President Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But as the criticism mounted, not even Mr Brown's friendship with Mr Bush, or his solid Republican ties were enough to save him.

As the blame game began, Mr Brown was forced to resign earlier this month.

Today he had the opportunity to tell his side of the story to a congressional committee investigating the Katrina relief effort. It was quite a performance.

MICHAEL BROWN: I've overseen over 150 presidentially declared disasters. I know what I'm doing, and I think I do a pretty darn good job of it.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: While he conceded he did make mistakes, such as not holding more regular media briefings during the height of the crisis, Mr Brown sought to shift most of the blame for the botched relief effort to others, in particular, Louisiana Governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the outspoken New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin.

MICHAEL BROWN: I very strongly, personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together. I just couldn't pull that off.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: And he didn't stop there.

MICHAEL BROWN: My mistake was in recognising that for whatever reason, Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco were reticent to order a mandatory evacuation. And if I, Mike Brown individual, could have done something to convince them that this was the big one and they needed to order a mandatory evacuation, I would have done it.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Some of the committee members couldn't quite believe what they were hearing.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON: I um, I find it um, absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr Brown, laying the blame for FEMA's (Federal Emergency Management Agency) failings at the feet of the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Connecticut Republican, Christopher Shays was equally incredulous.

CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: We had a non-evacuation. Then what? Give up? That's what I feel you did. If there wasn't going to be an evacuation and you believed that potentially tens of thousands of people could lose their lives, I want to know what you did.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Mr Brown was also asked to explain his infamous assertion that he didn't know New Orleans residents were flocking to the city's convention centre, despite their desperate images being broadcast around the clock.

The former emergency boss said he was just tired.

In Washington, this is Michael Rowland for AM.
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