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Probing the Government's Response to Katrina and Preparing for the Next Disaster

Senators probing the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans on other parts of America's Gulf Coast, say the White House is refusing to cooperate in a congressional investigation of the disaster. The inquiry comes amid revelations that the administration was apparently warned in advance that Katrina could breach levees in New Orleans and leave the city under water.

After Hurricane Katrina, President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said no one could have expected levees, or floodwalls, to fail in New Orleans.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," President Bush said.

"That perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners and maybe anybody's foresight,” said Mr. Chertoff.

However, Mr. Chertoff's own planners apparently had such foresight because Homeland Security officials sent an e-mail to the White House warning about levee failure five hours before Katrina made landfall on August 29th.

At a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, the interim president of the American Red Cross, Jack McGuire, noted that the media, including the largest newspaper in New Orleans, carried similar warnings.

"In 2002, the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a five-part series describing problems with the levee system,” he said.

Senators investigating the government's response to Katrina say the White House is hampering the inquiry by prohibiting administration officials from openly answering questions posed by lawmakers.

White House Spokesman Scott McClellan rejects the charge. "There are some 120 administration officials that been made available to the committees for interviews or for hearings; you have some 15,000 pages of documents that have been provided by the Executive Office of the President, some 240,000 pages provided by the Department of Defense and some 300,000 pages provided by the Department of Homeland Security."

Meanwhile, American Red Cross President Jack McGuire says the proper role of government in emergencies should be to coordinate and support public and private relief efforts. He adds that governments are not the only entities that should be prepared for disaster, noting that private organizations, businesses, and individuals should also be ready.

"We are all more vulnerable than we need to be,” said McGuire. “All emergency plans assume that people will have the knowledge and supplies to take care of themselves for at least 72 hours after a disaster."

Mr. McGuire noted that most families do not have so much as a bottle of water or a first aid kit, much less a plan to deal with disaster.