Washington — In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.
Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."
The footage - along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press - show that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings 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 that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.
The White House and Homeland Security Department urged the public Wednesday not to read too much into the footage.
"I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said, citing a variety of orders and disaster declarations Bush signed before the storm made landfall.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said his department would not release the full set of videotaped briefings, saying most transcripts - though not the videotapes - from the sessions were provided to congressional investigators months ago.
Video footage of the Aug. 28 briefing showed an intense Brown voicing concerns from the government's disaster operation center and imploring colleagues to do whatever was necessary to help victims.
"We're going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event," Brown warned.