US disaster officials warned President George Bush in dramatic and sometimes agonising terms that Hurricane Katrina could breach New Orleans levees.
He was told Katrina could risk lives in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage of the briefings.
Bush did not ask a single question during the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck on August 29 but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."
Six days of footage and transcripts obtained by The Associated Press show in excruciating detail that while officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realise they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Linked by secure video, Bush's bravado on 29 August contrasts starkly with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.
A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the President and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff he feared there were not enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.
"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.
Some of the footage conflicts with the defences that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimise the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:
* Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Centre's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.
"I don't buy the 'fog of war' defence," Brown told the AP in an interview today. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."
* Bush declared four days after the storm: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility - and Bush was worried too.Reuse content