New Emails Show FEMA Covering Its Ass in Miami A Year Before Katrina

People in Florida scratched their damp, sweaty heads in the fall of 2004 after four hurricanes in six weeks left much of the state without hot coffee in the morning, light before sunup or after sundown, or fuel for cars — the only source of charged cell phones, air conditioning and radio news.

People, that is, except in Dade County.

Miami was spared in 2004, although a year later God made an honest county of it by sending both Katrina and Rita. So how come FEMA’s intrepid director Michael Brown awarded so much aid to Dade County in 2004? That’s what one Florida newspaper wanted to know. South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

FEMA awarded more than $21 million in Miami-Dade for Hurricane Frances, the Labor Day weekend storm that struck 100 miles away.

Newly released e-mails of former FEMA Director Michael Brown show top federal officials scrambling to explain millions in disaster aid going to Miami-Dade County residents for a 2004 hurricane that missed the county and coaching Brown “not to appear defensive”…

“We need you calm cool and collected,” former FEMA chief of staff Patrick Rhode wrote in 2004 after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had awarded more than $21 million in Miami-Dade for Hurricane Frances, the Labor Day weekend storm that struck 100 miles away. “We need our best spokesperson … to combat these issues in a diplomatic way to wave the flag for the admin -“

The 29 pages of emails were released this week only after a direct order from U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra on behalf of the Sun-Sentinel. In an amazing feat of foreshadowing, FEMA staffers kick around various strategies for covering up glaring malfeasance. Left out is any indication of why the agency actually gave so much money to Miami. Was it because South Florida is a gushing fountain of funding for Republican candidates across the nation? Or was it just because FEMA was totally and completely inept? Tough call.

“Should we say the density in population in Miami-Dade versus the other affected counties (just sheer numbers) to somewhat explain the disparity in funding,” [FEMA Press Aide LeaAnne] McBride wrote to seven FEMA officials. “However, FYI — the reporter and those she contacted have driven around looking for physical damages to justify the funding and that will not be seen because those type of damages just did not occur in Miami-Dade.”

The email makes crystal clear that whatever else was going on, politics was the biggest determining factor in FEMA staff’s decisions. McBride’s advice to Brown shows just how caught up in election year issues they were.

In another e-mail, McBride wrote Brown, “Be cautious not to appear defensive or show that the ridiculous questions get under your skin when you’re at the press conf today [Sun-Sentinal Reporter] Megan [O’Matz] will show up. Just don’t want your expressions to give away your exasperation with this non-issue the way that the President’s did in the first debate.”

No indeed. Brown could have done a lot worse than the blinking, lip-twitching, murder-on-his-tiny-mind-revealing the president was doing. Still, one wonders. The email shows an agency whose soul was long ago sold. More unsettling is the thought that we are still at the mercy of shallow cynics more concerned with CYA than with actually helping people like us.


  • alexander
    May 20, 2006 - 6:20 pm | Permalink

    My brother-in-law living in Hialeah
    said somebody from Fema came after hurricane and gave him $20,000.00. All damage he had was a couple of loose tiles on the roof. Browny was doing a heckuva job all along.Two other of his relatives got the same amount didn’t have any damage. No wonder Bush “carried” Florida on 2004.

  • Vic Anderson
    May 20, 2006 - 6:23 pm | Permalink

    FEMA’s been CYA since Bush I and Chiles after Andrew provided prescient prologue for Bush II and Blanco’s equally mutual assured infamy following Katrina!

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