FEMA failed to accept Katrina help, documents say
Homeland Security: 'Of course' not all assets were used
By Jeanne Meserve
"Were there federal assets that were not used in Katrina? Of course," a Homeland Security spokesman said.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal emergency officials failed to accept offers of possibly life-saving aid from the Department of Interior immediately after Hurricane Katrina, according to documents obtained by CNN.
The Interior Department offered the Federal Emergency Management Agency the use of personnel who were experienced in water rescues and also offered boats, helicopters, heavy equipment and rooms, the documents say.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of a Senate committee with jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, said the additional resources may have saved lives. (Watch how FEMA brushed off offers of help -- 2:14)
"It is indeed possible that there was additional suffering and maybe even loss of life that might not have occurred if these assets had been deployed," Collins said.
Her panel, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is set to hold hearings Monday looking into the search-and-rescue response to Katrina.
A spokesman for Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, says the Bush administration is examining how to better utilize federal and other resources in catastrophes.
But, he observed, "Were there federal assets that were not used in Katrina? Of course."
The Interior Department offered FEMA 500 rooms, 119 pieces of heavy equipment, 300 dump trucks and other vehicles, 300 boats, 11 aircraft and 400 law enforcement officers, according to a questionnaire answered by a department official.
Interior law enforcement officers included special agents and refuge officers from the department's Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Although we attempted to provide these assets, we were unable to efficiently integrate and deploy these resources," an Interior Department official wrote the Senate committee investigating the government's response to Katrina.
Collins said she is particularly concerned by the fact that the offer of help was from the federal government.
"Now, you might be able to understand if it came from outside government," she said. "But this is another federal agency, an agency that was offering trained personnel and exactly the assets that the federal government needed to assist in the search-and-rescue operations."
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee's senior Democrat, says in a draft statement for Monday's hearing that "the greatest honor we can pay those who risked their lives in the aftermath of Katrina would be to make sure that the heroes of the next catastrophe ... are given the proper equipment and the clear plan they need to succeed..."
According to government officials, 1,322 people died from Katrina, all but 15 of the deaths occurring in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Senate committee released e-mails that document FEMA's decision to ground its search-and-rescue teams three days after Katrina because of security concerns.
Before then, the Interior Department had offered FEMA hundreds of law enforcement officers trained in search-and-rescue, emergency medical services and evacuation, according to the documents.
"The Department of the Interior was not called upon to assist until late September," the Interior official writes.
A FEMA document provided to the Senate committee indicates that many of the Interior Department's resources, which included transportation, communications and engineering, were never integrated into FEMA's planning for a catastrophic hurricane. That planning was still incomplete August 29, when Katrina roared ashore.
CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.
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