Video: Heated Katrina hearing

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/15/2005 12:14:19 PM ET 2005-12-15T17:14:19

Outside Congress Thursday, in the freezing cold, critics of the federal response to hurricane Katrina chanted: "No justice, no peace!"

Inside, it was Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco who was feeling the heat.

"Why was not the mandatory evacuation order activated?" asked Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

Blanco failed to call for a mandatory evacuation until 20 hours before the storm hit, despite urgent predictions that Katrina would be devastating.

"We got [1.2 million] people out," Blanco told the bipartisan committee investigating what went wrong after the storm. "We ended up saving another 100,000, and we lost 1,100. That's the whole story. We got people out."

"That's a story that is not acceptable," was the reply from Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Other incredulous Republicans asked, if the evacuation was such a success, why did so many people die? And why were so many stranded in the Superdome and convention center?

"Governor, in all due respect, if everything operated the way it should have we wouldn't be in this situation," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

"We have too many heroes in Louisiana for me to sit here and let you take down the effort that actually occurred," said Blanco. "We saved people."

The reason for so much death and destruction, Blanco argued, was the failure of the levees.

"If the levees hadn't failed, they wouldn't have been in any trouble and all those people in the dome would have walked home," she said.

The mayor of New Orleans was asked about all those school buses. Why were they left in low-lying areas where they couldn't be used to help evacuate the city?

"If I had to do it again, I would probably stage all those buses outside the city, somewhere else," said Mayor Ray Nagin.

Another problem, he said, was that most of the bus drivers had evacuated.

Gov. Blanco said her fear is that criticism of Louisiana's response to Katrina will be used by some in Congress as an excuse to oppose future aid for the victims.

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