Mark Looker Hurricane Katrina Journal



Joint Information Center (JIC) Baton Rouge, Louisiana on left-- Gov's RV on right.


State Emergency Operations Center (EOC)









Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005

Fly out of BTR at 7 a.m. on Continental to Houston and then to Sacramento.

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005

President Bush is to fly out to the Iwo Jima for a briefing with officials, including Gov. Blanco.  Monitoring media for that coverage, as well as ongoing monitoring of the developing Hurricane Rita story.

  • Bush concerned Rita may hit damaged gulf - - Passing by massive piles of debris left by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush said Tuesday that officials were readying for another possible hit - this time from Hurricane Rita in "what we pray is not a devastating storm." Bush received a briefing about Rita aboard the USS Iwo Jima, which is docked near this devastated city's downtown, as the hurricane lashed the Florida Keys and created worry among Katrina victims in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama that it could force more misery on them. <more> Sept. 20, 2005 3:25 p.m. Associated Press

    resident Bush, center, flanked by Lt. Gen. Russ Honore, left, and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, attends a briefing on Hurricane Rita on board the USS Iwo Jima in New Orleans, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005.



    Monday, Sept. 19, 2005

    Many reporters are transitioning over to the FEMA headquarters in downtown Baton Rouge. Activity is declining at the Office of Emergency Preparedness in terms of media but briefing schedule here will stay active through the week. Averaging about two briefing a week by various state agencies. Hurricane Rita is drawing increased concern as she picks up energy and some storm track forecasts show her headed for LA. Tension in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been steadily rising throughout the day as concern rises about what heavy rains could due to New Orleans where the levees are still very weak. Gov. Blanco holds a televised press conference to urge residents to

    Monitoring CNN. MSNBC and Fox News

    begin to prepare for possible evacuation. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco warned residents of her already sodden, beleaguered state to “prepare your family, prepare your house for the possibility of evacuation” in advance of Rita. At a Monday evening news conference in Louisiana, Blanco said “we are taking Rita very, very seriously,” despite not having a conclusive track on the storm now approaching the Keys. Blanco echoed updated storm track forecasts that predicted Rita would move in a more easterly direction than originally projected, closer to an already soaked Louisiana. “It's been moving into the Gulf of Mexico,” Blanco said. “Predictions are that the storm could reach Category 3 by the time it makes landfall later in the week.” “I want citizens in the coastal parishes to start making preparations to leave now,” Blanco said. “Make your preparations, make thoughtful preparations, think about keeping your families together. Make sure your homes are secure and yards are clear of any flying objects. Prepare your family, prepare your house for the possibility of evacuation.” 

    Sunday, Sept. 18, 2005

    Went to Bob and Cindy's church, First United Methodist in downtown Baton Rouge. Worked in office until 9 p.m. Watched Stone Phillip's Dateline report on Katrina response. MSNBC Timeline

    Bob and Cindy Mann, with Avery and Robert.

    Saturday,  Sept. 17, 2005

    Early afternoon took car tour of the historic towns of Clinton, Jackson and St. Francisville. Worked at the office until 6:30 p.m. and then went to have dinner at Bob's house with Cindy, Chris Frink and their friends.


    Friday, Sept. 16, 2005

    Very busy day monitoring the media for stories on the President's speech about the recovery plans. This follows the Governor's speech by one day and the mood is lifting considerably among staff as the focus turns from the "blame game" to looking at the task ahead and what role the state agencies will play in the recovery efforts.

    Bush Pledges Historic Effort To Help Gulf Coast Recover  - - President Bush, summoning the American spirit and "a faith in God no storm can take away," vowed from the heart of the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone Thursday night to rebuild this devastated city and the rest of the Gulf Coast with "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." In a prime-time address televised from the storm-battered French Quarter, the president appeared without coat and tie to mourn "a tragedy that seems so blind and random" while promising to help its victims with unprecedented federal assistance to secure homes, jobs, health care and schooling. <more> Sept. 16, 2005 10 a.m. Washington Post

    Had dinner with Bob and Chris at  Ralf and Kacoo's- - a genuine Louisiana-cuisine restaurant. Outstanding--I think we sampled just about everything on the menu!

    Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005

    Today has been full of anticipation about President Bush's speech in New Orleans outlining his plan to rebuild the area devastated by Katrina. The Senate Democrats held a pre-emptive press conference to get out their talking points about the scope of the aid. There is considerable concern among national Dems the WH will use this opportunity to advance the full conservative agenda, including school vouchers.

    The morning was busy as I clipped several stories covering the Governor's Wednesday night speech. Overall, she received very favorable coverage, with most papers focusing on her statement that "The Buck Stops Here." The speech gave her staff a big morale boost as it helped them turn the corner in the Blame Game and start to shift the narrative to how the state government is going to help those in need.

    Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco tells a joint session of the Legislature that the state will rebuild its Hurricane Katrina damaged areas better than before, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)


    Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005

    Things have been hectic here. Gov. Blanco addressed an emergency session of the Legislature last night and really knocked one out of the park--it was a great speech--she took full responsibility for any mistakes that were made and said "The Buck Stops Here." Then she laid out the state's plans for recovery. She got two standing ovations--especially when she said they would rebuild New Orleans.
    Mark with, left, Bob Mann, Communications Director and Chris Frink, speechwriter


    Bush comes to New Orleans tonight for a 30-minute address from the French Quarter. Everyone says they are all getting on the same page now--of course, once the millions of dollars in aid start coming in, we'll see how that all plays out!

    My sense is that the Joint Information Center (JIC) is winding down as things move from search and rescue to long-term recovery. All of the governor's aides may be back in the State Capitol by early next week just as I'm leaving. The news media horde is shrinking as the blood and guts part of the story fades. I'll miss the "Bunker" as well as the 24/7 mess hall-- had shrimp last night and fried chicken for lunch--can't beat the price!! I won't miss having to monitor Fox News!! What a sorry excuse for journalism! Here is the link again to my Hurricane News website if you're interested. 

    The staff love it as they are all out in the field with their Blackberries and it's a great way to stay up on the latest rumors and press conferences which seem to pop up at a moment's notice. You probably read about the indictments of the nursing home owners for the 34 patients who drowned when the owners fled and failed to evacuate them. There was a huge media frenzy on that one.  

    Bob Mann and Malcolm Ehrhardt hard at work

    I'm actually doing well on sleep--I'm getting between 5-6 hours a night. The two hour difference hasn't hurt me too much. I usually wake up about 5 a.m. their time and start thinking about everything I have to do and then slumber until Bob knocks on my door at 6:50 a.m. The Governor may deliver the Democrat response to Bush's weekly radio address on Saturday--that issue is being debated right now by her advisers as to whether that is something too partisan to do.

    Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005

    Today's news is dominated by the Governor's press conference blasting FEMA over its recovery of bodies. The contract with the Reynolds Company is expiring and the state is stepping forward to negotiate the contract directly with the company. Her press conference generates a lot of news coverage on the all-news cable networks, as well as in the wire services and the next day newspapers.

    The other major news item is the indictment of two nursing home operators for 34 deaths of their residents. Attorney General gets a lot of air time on this subject on all the major cable news networks, as well as coverage in wire stories and major national newspapers.

    Monday, Sept. 12, 2005

    I flew in Sunday night to the city of Baton Rouge, the state's capital, and found a city overwhelmed by the population explosion of the past two weeks. The city has been transformed from a population of 250,000 to more than 500,000 and rapidly rising as evacuees look for shelter, food and other aid. I am staying at the home of Bob Mann, communications director for Gov. Blanco. Bob and his wife, Cindy, and their six-year old twins Robert and Avery got through the storm unscathed--the hurricane's path did not veer to the northwest where they live in Baton Rouge.

    Blackhawk helicopter on landing field behind the JIC

     There is little physical evidence of the storm other than blown down limbs.  On the night I arrive, Bob and the Governor are returning from a visit to the Houston Astrodome where thousands of New Orleans residents have been evacuated. The Governor spent a lot of  her time there trying to explain the state government's response to the storm and the controversy over who did what and when in the lead-up to the storm and its aftermath. The "blame game" is on in earnest and the stakes are high for a Governor elected in 2004 by a slim margin. I am working in a 8 foot by 8 foot room of a mobile trailer located behind what is affectionately known as the "bunker" - - the state's Office of Emergency Services complex. Armed MP's stand guard at every entrance and a constant flow of military and civilian workers flow in and out of the building, while on a nearby field Blackhawk helicopters  are taking flight. My main job is to monitor a bank of three TV sets set to CNN, Fox and MSNBC and keep the "rapid response" team informed about the latest developments. Today the President has toured New Orleans with Gov. Blanco and the networks, wire services and local newspapers are pouring out a torrent of stories. I maintain a Hurricane Katrina Headline News web page, sending out constant emails to the communications team. Additionally, I help serve as rumor control as stories pop up in the media- - Is it true Blackwater Mercenaries are patrolling the streets of New Orleans? Is it true there has been a new levee break? Did a National Guardsman really gun down a helpless dog? Fact-checking and then getting out the real story is a constant activity. Tonight we're wrapping up "early" - - it is 9 p.m.--we've been on the job since 7:30 a.m. On Tuesday we gear up for the Governor's speech to an emergency session of the Legislature. She will lay out her vision for how the state will help its citizens get back on their feet. Here is the link to my live Hurricane News Headline page if you are interested.