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Monday, September 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Official says feds warned of storm's potential

Newhouse News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. — Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, said yesterday that officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security — including FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — listened in on electronic briefings given by his staff before Hurricane Katrina slammed Louisiana and Mississippi and were advised of the storm's potential deadly effects.

Mayfield said the strength of the storm and the potential disaster it could bring were made clear during the briefings and in formal advisories, which warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings. He said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornadoes to accompany the storm as it came ashore.

"We were briefing them way before landfall," Mayfield said. "It's not like this was a surprise. ... I keep looking back to see if there was anything else we could have done, and I just don't know what it would be," he said.

Chertoff said Saturday that government officials had not expected the damaging combination of a powerful hurricane and levee breaches that flooded New Orleans.

Brown, Mayfield said, is a dedicated public servant. "The question is why he couldn't shake loose the resources that were needed," he said.

Brown and Chertoff could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In the days before Katrina hit, Mayfield said, his staff also briefed FEMA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, at FEMA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., its Region 6 office in Dallas and the Region 4 office in Atlanta about the storm's potential.

He said all of those briefings were logged in the Hurricane Center's records.

Mayfield said his staff also participated in the five-day "Hurricane Pam" exercise sponsored by FEMA and the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in July 2004 that assumed a similar storm would hit the city.

Mayfield said his concern now is that another named storm could hit, as September is the most-active month of the annual hurricane season. "This is like the fourth inning in a nine-inning ballgame," he said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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