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Former US Disaster Official Defends Role in Hurricane Katrina


A former federal disaster chief says he warned President Bush and other administration officials about Hurricane Katrina before the storm struck the Gulf Coast last year. The former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency testified before a Senate panel investigating the administration's slow response to the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the former head of FEMA, Michael Brown, took issue with Bush administration officials who argue they did not know the full extent of the severity of Hurricane Katrina until a day after the August 29 storm struck.

He said on the eve of the hurricane, he held a video conference call with administration officials, including President Bush, in which he warned that a disaster was imminent and the government should be prepared to respond.

"I did not want to hear anyone say they could not do anything," he said. "I wanted them to do everything they humanly could to respond to this, because I knew in my heart, senator, that this was the bad one."

But at the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan disputed Brown's testimony, saying there were conflicting reports in the initial aftermath of the hurricane about the severity of the storm.

In his testimony, Brown called on Congress to remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security, which he argued is more focused on preventing terrorist attacks than responding to natural disasters, and keep it as an independent agency.

"The policies and the decisions that were implemented by DHS put FEMA on a path to failure," he said.

Under questioning from Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, Brown - who was forced to resign two weeks after the disaster - said he feels he has been forced to take the blame for the poor response to Katrina.

Pryor: Do you feel like you have been set up to be the scapegoat, the fall guy?

Brown: Yes, sir.

Pryor: Do you feel like the administration has done that to you?"

Brown: I do feel somewhat abandoned.

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated parts of the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.