NEW ORLEANS - The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina next Thursday will be the first one since the George W. Bush Presidential Library opened this past May.
President Bush raised more than $500 million to build the library, museum and public policy foundation on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It is the largest and most expensive of the 13 presidential centers in existence.
New Orleans Advocate reporter Bruce Nolan went to the library to investigate how Hurricane Katrina, and the federal levee breaches that flooded parts of the city, are portrayed through the eyes of the former administration, and how a storm victim would perceive it.
“You wouldn't recognize the experience as the experience you lived through,” Nolan said in an interview.
A visitor will see pictures and plaques with quotations guiding one through the storm and the federal response, but what struck Nolan as to what he saw was really what he didn't see in the exhibit.
“What you're not seeing is the horror of that first five days, when everybody was overwhelmed: the state, the city and FEMA.”
Nolan says there are no images of the desperate crowds at the Superdome or the Morial Convention Center. He says the federal story begins with the Coast Guard's heroic rescues and continues with the government's reinvestment in the region.
Another exhibit is interactive and allows the visitor to make a presidential decision. In Katrina's case that’s whether or not to federalize the entire national response.
"That interactive exhibit pictures New Orleans as helpless and the mayor (Ray Nagin) and governor (Kathleen Blanco) paralyzed as ineffectual, despite the best efforts of FEMA and the question is should the government rescue them,” Nolan explained.
Nolan said the Katrina exhibits do not acknowledge in a factual way any federal failures.
"To see a story that tells half the story is fundamentally not fair to the people who were in the water, to the people who died in their attics, to the people who were driven out of New Orleans and still live outside of New Orleans.”
Nolan will have several stories on the Katrina exhibit and the Bush library in this Sunday's edition of the New Orleans Advocate.