HARRISON COUNTY (WLOX) -- The talk of the nation is a new book with a startling revelation about the White House and its response to Katrina. Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan claims that "one of the worst disasters in our nation's history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush's presidency."
McClellan's new book is called "What Happened". In it, the author writes about what he calls a "serious strategic blunder" in Iraq. McClellan also claims that Katrina and the "botched federal response" to the 2005 hurricane came to define the president's second term in office.
On Wednesday, local emergency management leaders, who steered south Mississippi through the Katrina crisis, had some surprising thoughts about the McClellan book, and the excerpts released to the media.
Harrison County's current civil defense director is Rupert Lacy. The only reminder of Katrina in his command center is a satellite image used as a computer screen saver. "This was Saturday afternoon," Lacy pointed out. The civil defense director put that picture on computers because he never wants to forget the storm, or the confusion it caused. "It was chaotic," Lacy remembered.
The chaos apparently reached all the way to Washington. In a book due out on June 1, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan writes that the Bush administration spent most of the first week after Katrina "in a state of denial."
Lacy noticed a lack of communication during Katrina between his agents and the feds. "There wasn't that flow of information that we've seen in past storms," he said.
Once those first hours and first days after the storm passed, MEMA director Mike Womack conceded all governmental agencies were slow in reacting to south Mississippi's recovery needs. "I don't think there's any doubt that government at all levels could have done a better job in response to Katrina," Womack said outside MEMA's command center. His agency brought the van to Biloxi to remind people that hurricane season is just days away.
When asked if blaming everybody for the initial confusion was a fair thing to say, Joe Spraggins said, "Very fair. Very fair." Spraggins ran the Harrison County Emergency Management Center during Katrina. When he heard the McClellan book contended the initial federal response to the storm was botched, Spraggins nodded in agreement. "Oh sure. Everybody did. Everybody botched the response. It wasn't just them," he admitted. "I think they were kind of behind the power curve, and probably in a state of shock."
The White House's new press secretary called the McClellan book puzzling and sad. She also said President Bush had more important matters than commenting on books by former staffers.