A short Katrina timeline

I’m trying to put together a timeline of various events related to the Katrina/levee disaster. This is wildly incomplete, of course: most of the items that stick in my mind (and that I’ve tracked down links for) have been on the government side, and most of the local events are NO-centric. If you have anything to add (with links, if possible), leave them in Comments.

Update: Josh Marshall also has a timeline. And Duncan Black (Atrios) has collected some timelines from NPR.

Date Local Government
January 2001 Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.
April 2001 Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration’s goal of privatizing much of FEMA’s work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: “Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program….” he said. “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.”
Pre 9/11 2001 FEMA designates the “three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country”: a hurricane in New Orleans, a massive earthquake in San Francisco, and a terrorist attack in New York City.
December 2002 After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.
March 2003 FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.
? 2003 Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA’s preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.
Summer 2004 FEMA denies Louisiana’s pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: “You would think we would get maximum consideration….This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it.”
June 2004 The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay.”
June 2005 Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.
Friday, August 26
  • Louisiana declares a state of emergency.
  • Saturday, August 27
  • Greyhound closes its bus station in New Orleans.
  • Mississippi declares a state of emergency.
  • President Bush declares a state of emergency in Louisiana. “The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts…”
  • Sunday, August 28
  • NO Mayor Nagin orders a mandatory evacuation of the city.
  • The Superdome opens as a shelter for New Orleans residents.
  • The City of Chicago offers the Feds help. The Feds decline.
  • Monday, August 29
  • Hurricane Katrina, now Cat 4, makes landfall near New Orleans.
  • The levees break in the early morning.
  • Governor Blanco requests assistance from FEMA. (Can’t find the source for this.)
  • Tuesday, August 30
  • President Bush delivers a speech on the 60th anniversary of V-J Day. He spends two paragraphs talking about Katrina.
  • At Naval Base Coronado, Bush plays guitar.
  • Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, learns mid-day that the levees have broken, approximately 36 hours after they did.
  • Louisiana and Mississippi request military specialists and equipment from other states.
  • Wednesday, August 31
  • The Astrodome in Houston opens to refugees of Hurricane Katrina.
  • 18-year-old Jabbor Gibson either finds or steals a bus (depends who’s telling the story) and takes 100 refugees to the Astrodome. Early reports say he will be arrested.
  • President Bush cuts his 5 week vacation short by 2 days to fly back to Washington. He flies over the Gulf but doesn’t stop.
  • LA Gov. Blanco organizes a “moment of prayer” — during which all relief efforts stop.
  • Thursday, September 1
  • 11amCST: New Orleans police are ordered to leave search-and-rescue missions and concentrate on restoring law and order, because nothing’s getting done with people getting shot at and carjacked.
  • Evacuation of Charity Hospital stops because of a sniper.
  • The Astrodome closes its doors.
  • New Orleans Mayor Nagin gives a radio interview blasting the relief effort.
  • In an incredible display of compassion and timing, House Speaker Dennis Hastert wonders whether New Orleans should be rebuilt. He doesn’t suggest where all the residents should go or whether they should be compensated in any way.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff says, “The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster. Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part.”
  • FEMA Head Mike Brown tells Wolf Blitzer, “Well, I think the death toll may go into the thousands. And unfortunately, that’s going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the evacuation warnings. And I don’t make judgments about why people choose not to evacuate.”
  • President Bush claims, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” Um, no.
  • The Navy hires Halliburton to rebuild several Gulf-area naval bases.
  • Condi Rice goes shoe shopping. Takes in a show. Can’t a girl just relax?
  • Friday, September 2
  • Rapes and murders inside the Superdome are reported. The sanitation hasn’t worked for days.
  • FEMA Head Mike Brown claims to Ted Koppel that, really and truly, they just found out about the people at the NO convention center. Koppel not only doesn’t believe him, but says so out loud.
  • FEMA Head Brown gives President Bush a briefing. He uses a five day old map of Hurricane Katrina.
  • President Bush tells FEMA head Brown: “You’re doing a heck of a job.”
  • Saturday, September 3
  • The National Review suggests the Republicans hold their 2008 Convention in New Orleans.
  • The National Guard arrives in New Orleans.
  • Sunday, September 4
  • There are still people at the Superdome.
  • (The FEMA timeline taken from an e-mail I received. If anyone has any corrections for that, lemme know!)


    1. kpw says

      MT is inserting a BR after every line (which generally shows up before the table is rendered). If you collapse the entire table’s contents onto one line, it would eliminate the gap.I don’t know where this fits in the timeline, but at some point FEMA cordoned off the city and kept aid from entering.http://www.newshounds.us/2005/09/04/the_cavalry_came_too_late_while_fema_denied_water_to_nola.php

      And it won’t be long until they shift blame for Hurricane Katrina to the Disaster Twins.

    2. says

      this is a very important effort that you’re doing here, trying to put info together, in order to get some understanding out of this unbelievably shocking immobility of america’s central administration to do anything that is not just sending troops to shoot people down but for aid and relief purposes. i can tell you i’m following your time-line to see where it’s going to end.

    3. says

      Don’t forget that on Wednesday, the Governor organized and ordered a “moment of prayer” which had all of the heads of the rescue department in a room for prayers led by the local clergy. Thing is, it forced all of the efforts to pause while that is going on.

      Today, on WBRZ, they had an exclusive interview with the Mayor which, if true, is horrific. Nagin said that when they were on AF One with Bush, Nagin and everyone met with Bush. Then Bush, his aides and various people were going off with the Governor to come up with a plan. Nagin said that Bush came out later and told him that when he, Bush, asked the Governor did she want the Federal help… she said to give her 24 more hours. And Nagin turned to the cameras and said, “And more people died.”

      The WBRZ people said it was confirmed that Blanco did indeed ask for 24 hours. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with her, but right now, if there is real confirmation that this is true? She should be made to stay in the Convention Center.

    4. says

      One key component missing in the timeline is the hundreds of buses that could have been used to evacuate thousands before Katrina hit. These hundreds of buses can be seen partially under water in photos all over the web.

    5. MaxParrish says

      There are so many items of misinformation (and incomplete information) in your timeline it is not useful for those of us doing research.

      For example:

      1) FEMA was authorized to mange/coordinate all FEDERAL efforts (not all efforts as your quote implies).

      2) Govenor Blanko’s request of FEMA was for a mere $9M of a hodgepodge of equipment.

      3) According to press reports the levees actually broke on Tuesday and Wednesday. Chertoff explained that “no one thought” it would break in the context that it had held after the storm and did not break until a day later.

      4) The National Guard is normally managed by the State…who had 4000 NG activated prior to the storm. It was not till Wedn. that the state asked for additional multi-state help. In any case, she did not send in the NG to restore order.

      Among the other items that should be added:

      1) The buses were not used to evacuate
      2) The failure (Nagin) to issue earlier evac
      3) The failure to stock shelters (a local duty)
      4) The failure to manage shelters (a local duty)
      5) The failure to call up enough NG, earlier (a local duty).
      6) The failure to have a communications grid (a local duty).

      Other than that, the timeline is fine.

    6. says

      I’m really trying to keep down my snark-o-matic, because it isn’t helpful, so all I will say is: any help you can give me (with links and such) on correcting my timeline would be much appreciated.

    7. observer says

      visit this site to see Gov Blanco’s 4-page letter dated Aug 28th to Pres Bush, Office of Homeland Security & FEMA spelling out exactly what is needed in disaster and emergency assistance.
      Blanco declared a State of Emergency Plan be implemented on Aug 26th.

    8. michael d says

      first of all according to npr in new york city a haven of bush criticism , katrina van de hueval editor of the nation magazine brought up the guitar playing incident of bush. it was debunked by lehr the host ” IN FAIRNESS” he said , it was a gift given to the president by a returning soldier from iraq. as far as the fact that mike brown took over fema without diaster relef experince.do you remember 9/11 he was in charge then. as a victim of 9/11 i understand that as a diaster. it seems to me you are editoralizing

    9. Chris says

      I sat on my couch and watched the military roll into town on Friday at 9AM CST with truck after truck of bottled water and MRE’s.

      Might want to correct that.

      Bush was meeting with his advisors on Wednesday at 6AM EST setting the efforts in place.

      I didn’t hear about the levy’s being broke until Tuesday night. I don’t think the serious flooding started until then did it?

      Pretty incredible that they could get so many trucks helicopters and ships halfway across the country in just 2 days! Go ahead and delete this post. I know you will anyway.

    10. kim herzinger says

      You have to get this right, and you need to be much more precise. For instance, we’ve all seen the pix of the flooded school buses. How much time elapsed between 1) when the storm itself had passed over NO and allowed people to emerge; 2) who was supposed to drive these buses–I assume they live in NO and, consequently, were picking themselves up after the storm; 3) who was to give them an order to go to the buses and how were they to be communicated with when there were no communications; 4) when–exactly–did the levee break and flood the area where the buses were. In other words, was it physically possible for drivers to get to the buses and drive them to their destinations (e.g. Superdome) if a) they did not evacuate as demanded; b) they were able to leave their residences; c) there was some way to communicate with them to tell them to go; d) there was time to get to the buses and drive them to the Dome before the area flooded. And, of course, one must remember that UNTIL THE LEVEE BROKE there was no reason to think that people would have to be evacuated from the Superdome at all. In other words THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO REASON TO ASK BUS DRIVERS TO DRIVE BUSES TO THE SUPERDOME UNTIL IT WAS ALREADY TOO LATE. Let’s get the timeline right. Conservatives–cast into the horrible position of defending the Federal government as opposed to local and state governments–are simply going to have to swalloow the possibility that anything a conservative government does is not OK merely because it was done by conservatives.

    11. Mike says

      Several experts also believe the decision to make FEMA a part of the Department of Homeland Security, created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, was a major mistake. Rubin said FEMA functioned well in the 1990s as a small, independent agency.

      “Under DHS, it was downgraded, buried in a couple of layers of bureaucracy, and terrorism prevention got all the attention and most of the funds,” she said.

      Former FEMA director James Lee Witt testified to Congress in March 2004: “I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded.

      “I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact one state emergency manager told me, ‘It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management,”‘ he said.


    12. Kat says

      Thank you for starting this. I haven’t been collecting URLs to offer you, but http://www.wwltv.com has been very timely with information. I’m busy at work so I can’t find precise URLs but I can tell you where I rememeber hearing/reading info:

      It’s true that Brown was at FEMA during 9/11, reported on NPR today (try npr.org). I don’t know what role he played, though this is a disaster of a completely different kind, so I think his previous 9/11 exprerience is not very applicable here.

      I can’t find a link but I think it’s true that the levee didn’t break until early Tuesday, at least that’s when I think I heard about it. I know I got an alert from CNN when they first reported it, but I’ve deleted it. Try CNN.com.

    13. Ann says

      To everyone that has posted a url on this site, please please, go back and make a printed/hard copy of the article. If possible, post your own email address. Many of these sites will be taken down in 7 days, or put in archives that are fee bases. We know how the gov. likes to “scrub’ info that is not positive.
      To the owner of the site, Thank you.

    14. Marie says

      You have “Louisiana declares a state of emergency” under the federal column on August 26 but the link is to a proclamation stating that a state of emergency is “activated under the command of the director of the STATE Homeland Security. . . ” Thus it appears that she put Louisiana officials in charge, not FEMA or the US DHS.
      I found the letter Gov. Blanco wrote to President Bush asking for nine million dollars in SUPPORT from the federal government, but I don’t see where she activated the national guard (which Gov. Barbour did on August 27).

    15. CJ says

      A few things. Some of the information that was supposed to have occurred on the 26th, actually happened on the 28th according the Gov Blanco’s state webpage.

      The levee upgrade, even if approved, would not have helped, because it would not have been completed. The money would have been in place but bids and all work would have taken some time to get moving.

      The buses that were mentioned underwater would have been used for evacuation prior to Katrina hitting the coast, which is what I think at least one individual was trying to get at. As part of the evacuation plan of New Orleans those city and state vehicles could be used to evacuate the poor that did not have their own transportation. The truth of the matter is that some people didn’t think they had to worry about leaving. Granted some could not because the roads were shut down.

      There were major problems, we all know that, but how exactly do you prepare for something like this? I don’t think you can, because we can’t predict everything nature is going to do.

    16. cHRIS says


    17. Mike Cane says

      A printed hard copy isn’t much use for showing it again on the net. Although you can probably use your browser to save an e-copy, that too isn’t much use.

      I recommend using http://www.furl.net — this stores an e-copy on their servers along with a new URL to it that can then be shared with everyone on the net.

      (OMG. I just looked at my personal Archive. I have 666(!!!) web pages stored. This one will be 667!)

    18. Robert64 says

      In a nut shell . . . Katrina hit the coast Aug. 29th, the following days headlines were filled with stories of water levels to roof tops, electricity down for two months, and fears of levy breaks. FIVE days later, Bush visits and claims that outside of New Orleans, it appears as if a nuclear bomb has devestated the gulf . . . . it took 5 days for the administration to comprehend that a disaster of this magnitude had occurred? This is not, people, about democrats and republicans. There are great republicans and democrats. This is about incompetence! Reagan would have been in N.O. on Aug. 30!
      . . . . and regarding the “baby’s to kill” thread, just how many babies’ lives does Bush have to take before that abortion argument is null and void. Tens of thousands of children in Iraq, now possibly thousands in N.O. Don’t you get it, the Bush administration uses “hot topic” issues to keep us from seeing the truth. Yes, Bush cares about babies, the ones holding platinum and gold rattles.

    19. says

      Oh, it’s the Instapundit “interesting” dodge! News flash: you link it, you own it. So unless you have commentary that somehow slipped your mind, you’re actually saying you buy what’s in this link you’ve left.

      But you’re too much of a coward to come out and say it.

      And I guess you’re leaving it to me to analyze why this link is full of crap? Oh geez. Do your own work.

    20. Aimee says

      Here’s a link to the state of Louisiana’s website and a pdf with Gov. Blanco’s request for FEMA assistance dated 28 August (Sunday).


      I don’t know how these things work specifically with governmental agencies, but in my organization a letter with a request of this kind is usually preceded by a phone call and the letter is a formality.

    21. Chyrl says

      A Washington Post Article which outlines where the Federal Government’s money appropriated to LA levee’s went. It isn’t in the levees system.

      Money Flowed to Questionable Projects
      State Leads in Army Corps Spending, but Millions Had Nothing to Do With Floods

      Also, here is a Letter written by Gov. Blanco on August 28th to the President requesting federal assistance and outlining what the needs are. Note there is no request for military or additional guard assistance.


    22. Don Pullum says

      I was a divisional environmental manager over three plants in three states. Under me I had people who had local responsibility. We had contingency plans, automatic actions to take. Yet, it was my duty to call and make sure action was taken. If things did not go well, AS DEPARTMENT HEAD IT WAS MY RESPONSIBILITY; MY HEAD THAT WOULD ROLL. AS TRUMAN SAID… “THE BUCK STOPS HERE.” Commander has a definition in the dictionary. uh ha.

    23. nonative says


      This is from the TP on August 27. It refers to part of the official evacuation plan (which I can send if you like) which calls for allowing low lying areas like Plaquemine Parish and St Bernard to leave first so they don’t get blocked in by Orleans and Jefferson evacuees.


      Some order Katrina evacuations

      St. Charles Parish issued a mandatory evacuation at 9 a.m. Saturday as weather forecasters said southeast Louisiana could suffer a direct hit from the hurricane.

      New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin encouraged Jefferson Parish officials to follow the state evacuation plan, which calls for low-lying coastal areas to evacuate first. Jefferson officials broke with the plan to call for an early evacuation for Hurricane Dennis in July. Nagin, in an interview with Channel 4 news, said all officials need to make quick decisions to handle the approaching storm.

      “The problem with this storm is that it’s going to compress everything,” Nagin said. “We have a shorter window to deal with this storm and we’ve got to get people to start evacuating.”

      I’m sending it because many are criticizing Nagin for waiting to call for a mandatory, but the parishes had already agreed years earlier that Orleans would wait. As it was 80 percent of Orleans left, more than any other storm evacuation.

    24. shelie says

      Interesting comments and opinions all over the place…hopefully someone will actually put all the puzzle pieces together someday soon and without the political bias, racial bias, celebrity bias, religious bias, opportunistic(sp)cause, vendettas and find a way to protect large cities and surrounding areas…imagine in your state..choose the largest city..now, make a plan to evacuate it and surrounding area to the outlying areas while your entire state is cut off from communications (incoming and outgoing)… no utilities in 80% of the area..now, imagine the water rising from the center of that city out. Hard to imagine…but that is what happened. There is a saying my mother used to say ‘if you want to see chaos…just make your plans in stone!’ Mom’s are pretty smart. Sorry for the purge…our home is 45 min. from New Orleans..I love the city and it is heartbreaking to see such devastation of not only her and her citizens but to the entire coastline of the Gulf States and inland all the way to Tennesse. People are forgetting that it was a still a hurricane far inland through southeast La. into central and NE Ms. It was a Tropical Storm into the Tenn. area. By the way…it seemed slow for the people in N.O. to get help…the citizens in the path of the hurricane had not even had contact with the outside until a day or two ago. Many of these rural areas still have not received any help from the outside.

      For hurricane info check out the info on http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/2005/katrina.html
      Also, another timeline which is interesting is http://signaleer.blogspot.com/2005/09/timeline-that-is-not-being-reported.html

      Info on timeline can be found on local t.v. website http://www.wafb.com and info on N.O. Emergency Preparedness at http://www.cityofno.com (go to Emergency Preparedness; info guides for citizens w/disabilities; Special Needs Shelters;General Evacuation Guidelines) An article at http://www.nola.com ‘At least 10,000 find refuge at the Superdome’ Aug.29 05 and an article ‘Mayor Urges Storm Preparations’ Aug 27 05 and an article at the same website ‘Blanco’s State of Emergency letter to Pres. Bush’ Aug 27 ’05. One other interesting press release at http://gov.louisiana.gov/Press_Release_detail.asp?id=1019 Dated Friday, Sept. 9, 2005. This is the Task Force Pelican Status Report, Sept.8 ’05.

      While I am at it, I would like to personally say how grateful I am at the outpouring of compassion from people from all over the world and to all who have given their assistance and risked their lives and opened their hearts to Louisiana and ‘her’ citizens from all over the world. Many have passed through our community to help in rescuing and sheltering our La. citizens, our pets, our city…Bless you all.

      I have never posted before…so if I over-did it…sorry…shelie

    25. Robicog says

      Why would you start your timeline in 2001? Do you really think that the New Orleans levee situation began at that time? Surely any scholarly assessment would have to begin with previous hurricanes and the improvement, or lack of improvement in the levee, at that time. Your bias is showing.

    26. says

      Your bias is showing.

      Gosh, ya think?

      The Feds screwed up big time on this one, and no amount of screaming and finger pointing is going to cover that fact up.

      Of course, anyone who lives in a coast state — particularly where the big ports are — could have told you that the Feds aren’t prepared for jack, despite their insistence over the past four years that they’re the only ones who can keep us safe. We just didn’t know it was going to be this bad.

    27. says

      Abandoned by Amtrak in New Orleans in Advance of Hurricane

      Over the past several days, there has been a news item circulating that mentioned how Amtrak allegedly made an attempt to contact the Mayor to use its rolling stock to aid in the evacuation. Whether or not that is accurate, I of course have no basis of knowing. However, Amtrak did abandon its ticketed passengers in New Orleans. I should know and do know. I was one of them.

      On the afternoon of Saturday the 27th, Amtrak shamelessly closed down
      its ticket desks at Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans, chained shut the entrances, and abandoned ticketed passengers like myself.

      They brought us into New Orleans on their trains and
      then, nearly two days before landfall, Amtrak simply disappeared
      into thin air.

      There was no announcement on my inbound train
      that trouble was ahead or that persons with
      connections had better speak to a ticket agent upon
      arrival. They made no effort after abandoning New
      Orleans to provide transportation of any type away
      from danger or to arrange for hotel or emergency
      housing for those they stranded. Neither did they
      provide emergency directions for those of us left to
      fend for ourselves in a city that many of us did not
      know to any nuanced degree in terms of living
      through a hurricane there. Amtrak told us that we
      were on our own. Passengers were directed to an
      800 number where callers were treated to little gems
      like one I was told, ‘Well, sir, you were the one who
      decided to board the train.’

      There is no excuse for such an abandonment.


    28. Doug says

      I am doing some fact finding research for an independent reporting service. We are non partisan and concentrate stickly on facts.

      You have done a great job on putting together and time line of certain historical facts on this page. Too bad it can not be used as a useful reference paper because of it’s Partisan tone.

      As a researcher I don’t care who is who’s friend (cronie), who was in what office at what time…I just want to see the chain of events that occurred to get to some conclusion…

      After I get the facts in order it is at that time that personalities and their actions can be scrutinized. For instance, in this time you make references to cuts in spending for the levies in LA as though finger pointing to certain parties are involved. This might well be true….but the facts are…Government spending is done by congress acting as a “Whole” that is the time line fact…TO see who might have most influenced that is a whole different time line of events…

      Anyhow….Carry on…Just a shame to spend so much time producing a great page that can not be used or quoted as an educational tool because politics got in the way and made somethings suspect….even if they are accurate

    29. says

      Uh huh. Right.

      Too bad the facts just have this anti-Administration bias, is that it?

      I am very tired of the on the one hand, and on the other hand reporting. We only GET one side in this damn country. Shape of earth: views differ!

    30. says

      we in the UK dont get any info on it so could you guys help me out by telling me where i can find a short time line of the events leading up to Hurricane Katrina for my geography project?

    31. Steve lang says

      Hello, I am writing a book on the calculated neglegence of this administration and Katrina. I happend to stumble on some very interestion facts about FEMA If you goggle REX 84 you will see the dardk side of fema and what i believe bush’s boys are using it for. I also believe that the levees were blown to remove and replace the citizens with new business. As you can see wherever there is a Bush you can find a conspiracy against the working class. Thanks Steve