Home / Was Bush Slow To Respond to Katrina? History Says Yes

Was Bush Slow To Respond to Katrina? History Says Yes

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Was President Bush slow to react to Hurricane Katrina?

Conservative say no. But look past their endless criticisms of the Democratic governor and the Democratic mayor (who they forget was a Bush supporter in 2000). That’s just empty spin.

Let’s look at some actual facts.

The Daily Howler took a look at Bush’s timeline reacting to Katrina, and compared it with recent reactions from Bush, Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Since it’s clear that Katrina is the worst hurricane in recent memory — in terms of physical damage and loss of life — one would assume that it would require the prompest reaction from the president. But that hasn’t been the case — and that’s why there’s been bipartisan disappointment. Conservatives, when they are done criticizing the Democrats of Louisiana for their failures, turn around and suggest it’s only “hate Bush” liberals angry with Bush. But that’s not the case.


So how have recent presidents reacted to massive natural disasters?

On Monday, when the hurricane hit, President Bush flew to Arizona and California to discuss Medicare. On Tuesday, the day the levee broke, Bush flew to San Diego to speak to World War II veterans. On Wednesday, he flew over New Orleans on way to a speech at the Rose Garden. On Thursday he made comments on ABC’s Good Morning America. On Friday, as the federal response reached the Gulf Coast, so did Bush.

So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s four days from impact to the point when the “cavalry” arrived — cowboy president included.

Now, let’s go into the wayback machine and look at what other presidents did — most often, with storms that were not as destructive as Katrina.

Hurricane Andrew (1992): A Category 5 hurricane, “Hurricane Andrew slammed into Southern Florida 13 years ago this week, leaving behind more than $30 million in damage, 100,000 people homeless, and more than a dozen dead,” said NBC’s Stone Phillips, in a report aired in 2002.

So, how quickly did the federal government, under George H.W. Bush, react?

From the NBC report: “Perhaps most surprisingly, in the first three days after Andrew, there was little outside help coming into South Florida, no federal cavalry riding over the hill. Local governments and charities were scrambling to do what they could. … But on Day 4, August 28th, outside help finally arrived: federal troops. Twenty thousand National Guard, Army and Marine Corps troops poured into South Florida. They restored order, set up field kitchens to feed the hungry, built tent cities to house the homeless, and helicoptered supplies to victims in remote areas.”

So the federal government under George H.W. Bush reacted much the same as the federal government under George W. Bush — ironically both dealing with Category 5 hurricanes.


Now, compare that with the federal response to lesser hurricanes, under President Clinton’s watch:

Hurricane Bertha (1996): A Category 2 hurricane nowhere near the scale of Katrina. But how did President Clinton respond?

— An estimated 500,000 people were ordered to evacuate six north Florida counties. About 50,000 were asked to get off Hatteras and Ocracoke islands on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. And officials urged the evacuation of parts of two South Carolina counties with 380,000 residents.
—Clinton canceled appearances in Orlando and Tampa.

Hurricane Floyd (1999): In anticipation of the hurricane striking the Southeast, Clinton cut short a trip to New Zealand, where he was attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, and skipped a one-day rest in Hawaii, to arrive back in Washington within 24 hours of when Floyd hit.

Originally a Category 4 hurricane, by the time Floyd reached North Carolina, it had been reduced to Category 2. But as with Katrina, it flooded major highways, creating logistical nightmares for emergency personnel. People ignored evacuation orders and were left stranded on rooftops.

Clinton arrived on Monday, Sept. 19, four days after Floyd damaged North Carolina and Virginia. But no one complained, because, as CNN reported: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized for incompetence during the Reagan and Bush administrations, has been more recently hailed as a success story.”


In other words, dealing with lesser hurricanes, Clinton acted more swiftly, apparently with better planning and a stronger response from FEMA.

Of course, the hurricanes are not comparable. And sadly, neither are the federal responses. Conservatives want to spin President Bush’s response time — but a simple recitation of the facts speaks volumes.


This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • 1Potato

    There we go again, liberals quoting liberals. It’s no surprise that CNN described Clinton’s efforts more positively. The vast majority of reporters and anchors at CNN love Clinton and hate Bush. Newsflash: Media bias thoroughly established by Bernard Goldberg and a thousand others.

    Big Picture: I don’t vote for a President based on who shows up at hurricanes quicker (or, shall we say, who milks photo ops faster). I vote on political philosophy.

  • Excellent article, David Mark. Potato, you didn’t refute any of it. How about some facts? You’re busted, the right wing is busted, the Bush family is busted and exposed. There’s nothing you can say to worm out of it.

  • Eric Olsen

    As a nominal Bush supporter I don’t think there is any question his administration was slow to respond and could have done considerably more to prepare as well.

    The question now is will the late mobilization and attention be sufficient? He now appears committed.

  • I think that anyone with a lick of sense would have to admit that once regular army units were let into the city the evacuation started to go remarkably well and quickly.


  • Eric Olsen

    but it was inevitable that a large number of people would be left behind to deal with the storm and that there would be all kinds of foreseeable problems for them. And saying “we didn’t foresee the levee breaking” was just stupid: anyone who was paying any attentin at all predicted levee failure under these kinds of conditions. And remember the storm was predicted to be WORSDE than it actually was.

    If the administration approaches the rescue, clean-up, and rebuild with the tenacity it has shown toward the war on terror, that will go a long way to mitigating the slow response and poor planning. I hope that is the case

  • Eric Olsen

    I should add that local and state autorities were equally, or even more culpable for what ensued

  • phil

    it was clearly a let down on the part of local officials, particularly the governor, by not making better advance preparations and heeding warnings, FEMA predicated just exactly what has happened way back in 1991. The governor seemed to be in shock and incapable of making decisions

  • The original post was astonishingly unpersuasive. Not enough info to come to any kind of judgement. Bush was on the phone to the governor personally on Saturday, urging her to call for evacuation. How’s that for just one single fact that blows all your stuff out of the water.

  • kay humann

    So, were you there in the office when Bush (Supposedly was on the phone to the govenor?) I say “Hear Say” and poppy-cock!!!

  • kay humann

    So, were you there in the office when Bush (Supposedly was on the phone to the governor?) I say “Hear Say” and poppy-cock!!!

  • kay

    So, were you there in the office when Bush (Supposedly was on the phone to the governor?) I say “Hear Say” and poppy-cock!!!

  • kay

    So, were you there in the office when Bush (Supposedly was on the phone to the governor?) I say “Hear Say” and poppy-cock!!!

  • >>it was clearly a let down on the part of local officials, particularly the governor, by not making better advance preparations and heeding warnings, FEMA predicated just exactly what has happened way back in 1991. The governor seemed to be in shock and incapable of making decisions<< They had a plan. They didn't follow the plan. That's the original source of the problem. Dave

  • The right has been spinning Bush’s phone call to Blanco. Problem is, she already had her press conference scheduled, at which she was to announce the evacuation.

    How did this get spun?

    The AP wrote a headline saying that Bush called Blanco asking her to call the evacuation.

    Later stories established the timeline better, but the AP headline started bouncing around the right-wing blogosphere. Suddenly, Bush’s appeal became “Bush pleading” — a slight change in tone by various bloggers.

    Then Fox News’ Brit Hume reported on the story, using the right-wing bloggers terminology. Suddenly, the stoyrline was that Bush had to convince Blanco, and that if Bush hadn’t pleaded, Blanco, we are to assume, would have done nothing.

    Subsequent AP and other stories put the original AP story in better context got lost in the shuffle.

    The changed tone in the right-wing version of the story, subsequently adopted by Fox as factual, should be denounced by the “moderate” pundits on blogcritics. It’s an unfair interpretation of the facts.

  • patrick meade

    What do you can say about rich white trash, he grew up when he was 40, never worked a day in his life, puts his frat boy buddies into jobs for witch they had no qualifations for. This added to a war that has become his tar baby, and the U.S.A.’s. What did one of the republican big shots say about Clinton I disagree with this foulball and support the Troops.

  • Mark D.

    You forgot to mention that Jesse Jackson wasn’t satisfied with the response to Hurricane Floyd, a less taxing storm. FEMA didn’t take action until a month later. If President Clinton was in office today and FEMA was consistent in its response, FEMA would still not be expected in LA for another 2 weeks.

    If I was Mike Brown, recently demoted director, I would only suggest that his response be compared to that of other responses to hurricanes. When looking at it in that aspect, you would have to be happy with his, and FEMA’s, performance.

    When the time is right, we all will be investigating the performance of all agencies. Then the truth will be revealed that, although mistakes were made by all, the federal government response was more rapid than responses in the past.

    I encourage people to continue voicing there disagreements because it will only hurt them in the long run. Get the facts straight before saying such ignorant comments. Way to go KAYANE, HILLARY, JESSE, AL, and many more!!! Before we are quick to accuse, know the facts!

    God bless America and God bless the people of Louisianna, Mississippi, Alabama during this trying time. We will overcome.

    Mark D.

  • The Comish (sic)

    There are a couple of pretty obvious problems with your account.

    First, you suggest that it took the President 4 days to respond to the hurricane. But even discounting the actions that Blanco, Nagin, and others have suggested he took *before* the hurricane struck (including releasing FEMA workers, funds, and supplies before the hurricane), you also fail to mention that the military was ordered to follow the storm in; the military was assessing the damage and conducting rescue operations along the coast merely hours after the hurricanes struck. Heck, if you followed the links in your own piece, you’d see that Bush flew over the hurricane devastated areas and gave a speech on the recovery effort on *DAY 3*. I have no idea what your basis is for suggesting it took 4 days for federal help to arrive.

    Second, you suggest that Clinton should get credit for cancelling appearances in Florida when the hurricanes were about to strike (or perhaps Bush should be criticized for failing to cancel appearances when the hurricanes were about to strike Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida). But you don’t mention that Clinton was scheduled to appear in the state where the hurricane was supposed to strike. And you don’t mention that Clinton did not cancel those appearances because of some sense of empathy for the hurricane victims, but because he didn’t want to mess up the hurricane evacuations and preparations (and probably because the area was unsafe). I see no reason to believe that Bush’s appearances in California and Arizona affected the preparations for the hurricane.

    Third, you suggest that the larger size of the devastation suggests that federal help should be faster. In fact, the size of the devastation caused by Katrina — cutting a swath about the size of Great Britain — suggests that the size of the FEMA response would have to be larger by orders of magnitude. Because any relief and recovery effort would have to be so much greater in size, merely getting the recovery there in the same amount of time is a much greater achievement.

  • It just occured to me that basically what you’re complaining about here is that Bush didn’t choose to have a self-promoting photo op early enough. Kind of weird and sick to fault him for that.


  • You’re defending the President way more than he’s defending himself now.

    He was three days slow, he admits he was slow, and he admits his administrators in FEMA and other agencies were incompetent.

    What’s the point of your argument now?

    That is all.

  • I don’t have an argument with the president, just with the cheap bashing in this article.

    And he didn’t admit any of the stuff you said. He claimed responsibility. Not at all the same thing.

    Just to be hypothetical, if it turns out in retrospect that response was about as good as anyone could expect given the circumstances, his claim of responsibility now will get him the credit later.

    More likely it will be a mixed bag of credit and blame, but taking responsibility will get him more credit than blame overall.


  • Responsibility for being SLOW and INCOMPETENT in the response and in managing his administrators. THAT’s what people were blaming him for and that’s why he gave the apology yesterday — he was definitely getting more blame than credit and it was a smart political move.

    That is all.

  • JR

    Eric Olsen: If the administration approaches the rescue, clean-up, and rebuild with the tenacity it has shown toward the war on terror, that will go a long way to mitigating the slow response and poor planning.

    His tenacity is for shit without competence. He still hasn’t caught bin Laden; what has Bush’s tenacity done for us?

    Does anybody really think this idiot is going to be ready to deal with the next impending disaster? (Warning: it might not be a hurricane or a terrorist attack.)

    I guess people prefer to be forgiving and blindly optimistic rather than the least bit prepared or protected.

  • HP

    I’m not saying that once the Feds weren’t quick, they just weren’t quick to act. There’s a difference. I just think that it would have been better if Bush gave the order to act fast sooner…

    Agree w/ JR…Bush=Incompotent
    Doubt his tenacity will be the same as his “War on Terror”…simply because it’s not an election year.

    And to the criticism of Clinton’s response with Floyd, an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit sounds a bit more important that flying around the country making publicity speeches. Hell, if that was Bush, I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt like he deserved that 1 day breakin Hawaii…

    But then again, maybe it was a good thing that Bush got that rest in Crawford, or else he’d be to tired to make some phone calls and order people to go help the Katrina victims.

  • You Liberals are very ignorant of your facts: no wonder low life Euro trash think Americans are DUMB! You liberal elitists don’t even know your own Constitution! First of all, the state has to ask the Federal government for help before the government can send in the military or any other type of aid, this is not a totaletarian regime no matter how badly CNN wants it to be. If Bush had send in the military, and ignore FEMA, you people would be calling him a dictator for abusing his power of authority! This is not Cuba people where the army can come and go as they please.
    Blanco should be booted out of office for not asking for government intervention, it took her 5 days to do so and then, using a typical Liberal cowardly tactic, blamed Bush for everything: shame on her.
    Then you have Hillary Clinton playing the race card. People where shocked at seeing so many African-Americans in this disaster zone but let us not forget that New Orleans is 67% black so it is logical that the majority affected were African-Americans. HIllary, afterall, is the one that called one of her aids a “Jew B*stard” and she and her husband are closet racists. Let’s see how the Democratic Party handles its own racism from the past and the present instead of blaing everything on Bush.

  • Jennifer Summers

    There is a huge difference between talking tough and acting tough.

    To me, bush walked and talked like he was some kind of John Wayne cowboy, cocky and a “don’t mess with me” attitude but the things he did while in office, the actual decisions he took were awful and ill-advised (if he actually listened to any advice).

    If you look at his past he has failed in pretty much every thing he has put his hand to.

  • Jane

    Now we have Hurricane Isaac. It has taken now President Obama 5, yes five days, to arrive in Louisiana!