updated 12/10/2005 3:05:28 AM ET 2005-12-10T08:05:28

A senator leading an investigation into the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina questioned whether requests after the storm by New Orleans officials for golf carts, air conditioners and travel aid were necessary.

Documents released Thursday by Republican aides to a Senate committee show that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration also asked for hundreds of laptop computers, patrol cars, handcuffs and guns for police. There was looting in the flooded city after the Aug. 29 storm, and many of its police cars and other vehicles and equipment were destroyed.

The city’s police chief defended the requests Thursday, saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the police department to “think big” in asking for supplies lost in the storm.

But “they struck me as not the typical request,” said Sen. Susan Collins, leading a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing that examined FEMA’s response operations.

“Are these typical of the requests that you would expect to get from state and local governments to FEMA in the aftermath of a disaster?” asked Collins, R-Maine.

‘Hundreds of requests’
Responded Scott Wells, the agency’s top coordinator in Louisiana: “I think this is an indication of a lack of understanding — this came from the local level — of what FEMA is there for, what we can do.”

He added, “We got, literally, hundreds and hundreds of requests like this, intermingled with valid requests.”

A message left Thursday with Nagin’s office was not immediately returned.

E-mails from state officials also released by the Senate indicate confusion over how to ask for enough resources to ensure that needs were met.

“I am going to ask if there isn’t some blanket ’FEMA do everything possible everywhere’ request,” Stephanie Leger, a Washington-based aide to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, wrote in a Sept. 3 e-mail.

“FEMA, while I know they are great, sound like they could really hit us hard if we don’t ask for the kitchen sink,” Leger wrote Blanco’s chief of staff, Andy Kopplin.

State-requested items
The documents — FEMA and state request forms — detail requests from city officials immediately after the storm. They include:

  • 100 laptop computers, 200 Crown Victoria cruisers, 300 bulletproof vests, 400 hundred semiautomatic guns, 1,000 pairs of handcuffs, 1,500 military boots and 2,000 uniforms for city police.
  • 10 gas-powered golf carts to transport firefighters around staging areas at the Zephyr baseball field in New Orleans.
  • At least one air conditioning unit for City Hall offices.

A month later, in October, city and state officials asked for more Katrina-related aid. Among the items were:

  • A bus for Nagin and about 20 employees to travel to Shreveport, La. The request on Oct. 11 noted that the bus needed to come with fuel, meals and lodging. It was rejected by FEMA as “not within the best financial interest of the federal or state government.”
  • A taxi ride from a Baton Rouge hospital to a local shelter for one person. That request was returned to Louisiana state social services officials for “local action.”

Chief: FEMA said to ‘think big’
New Orleans’ police chief, Warren Riley, said FEMA promised to replace lost equipment and encouraged them to apply for it. FEMA told him to “think big,” Riley said.

Riley said he believed the department asked for 300 patrol cars — instead of 200 — and that they are still short 170 cars. He has a target date of Feb. 3 to replace all the lost uniforms.

The Senate hearing also focused on whether FEMA officials were adequately prepared to respond to the storm.

A June 2004 memo by regional FEMA leaders said their national emergency response teams were unprepared for a major disaster and were operating under outdated plans.

FEMA has said that the teams were redesigned in May to make them more responsive.

But Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, “It would appear, from your statements, that FEMA was lacking a plan, communications, appropriate personnel and various other assets that deal with a catastrophic disaster of this kind.”

Former FEMA official William Carwile, who wrote the 2004 memo, said, “I can’t help believe that trained and ready teams, people who have worked together, would not have made some difference in a positive way.”

Carwile retired from FEMA in October after helping coordinate the agency’s Katrina response in Mississippi.

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