BUSH VIEWS DAMAGE FROM AIR FORCE ONE
Wed Aug 31 2005 16:36:21 ET
Aboard Air Force One
Before the news, a short programming note: POTUS will appear in the Rose Garden to make a statement at 5 p.m. following the hurricane meeting but does not plan to take questions.
Now the news: POTUS got an intense, personal view this morning of the extraordinary arc of devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina as Air Force One dipped out of the clouds and flew low over Gulf Coast states where whole neighborhoods and communities were wiped out and the city of New Orleans remained a virtual lake.
Air Force Col. Mark Tillman, the chief pilot of Air Force One, routed the Waco-to-Andrews flight along the southern edge of the United States to give POTUS a birds eye view but at points he and his crew brought the plane so low that it was barely above the skyscrapers of New Orleans. POTUS moved over to the left side of the plane where his Secret Service detail normally sits and watched intently out the window during the 35-minute flyover. His tour took him over New Orleans and then along the coast over Slidell, Waveland, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula, before the plane climbed back to normal altitude, veered north and headed toward Washington.
Its devastating, POTUS said as he watched, according to Scott McClellan. Its got to be doubly devastating on the ground. McClellan said POTUS remained quiet through most of the flyover, pointing out various signs of destruction along with Karl Rove, J.D. Crouch and one of the pilots. There wasnt a whole lot of conversation going on, McClellan said. I think its very sobering to see from the air. And I think at some points youre just kind of shaking your head in disbelief to see the destruction that has been done by the hurricane.
While still photogs were allowed to snap POTUSs picture at the beginning of the flyover, your pool remained in the back. Heres a detailed account of the view from Air Force One as it was visible to POTUS, punctuated with McClellans readout of POTUSs reaction during the flyover:
The plane descended from its cruising altitude of 29,000 down to 2,500 feet as it headed toward the New Orleans area about 11:30 a.m. central time, then dipped down as low as 1,700 feet as it swooped over the city. From the air, New Orleans appeared almost completely washed out, whole sections still submerged below water, virtually no cars on the roads that were still above water. It was haunting to see virtually no signs of continuing human habitation at all. Oh man, thats the whole city, exclaimed one of the stunned Air Force officers watching with your pool. Look at all that water, said another. The damage to the Superdome was readily apparent as it seemed that part of the skin of the roof had been peeled back. Many other office buildings in downtown New Orleans had substantial roof damage as well.
As Air Force One moved further east, the extensive scope of the flooding in New Orleans became even clearer. Miles upon miles of residential neighborhoods were completely under water, with one large section so flooded that the water appeared to reach all the way up to, and even above, the roofs of the houses. Highways disappeared into the water and at least one boat could be seen motoring down what once was a major road. Several helicopters buzzed over this part of the city. One Coast Guard helicopter hovered so low over one area that its rotor blades were whipping up the water below; it appeared the helicopter might have been in the midst of a rescue right then. It was in this part of the city, according to McClellan, when POTUS made his remark about it being devastating and doubly devastating on the ground.
Heading east to the citys outskirts and beyond, some suburban and rural communities were virtually obliterated. Acres and acres of forests were leveled, the trees literally flattened as if stepped on. An amusement park appeared to be a model in a bathtub, the roller-coaster emerging from the water.
Further along, with Air Force One back at 2,500 feet, the other most devastated area was in the area of the Mississippi towns of Waveland and Pass Christian, where there was not much water but many miles of wooden houses were completely smashed, left looking from the air like nothing more than piles of matchsticks as far as the eye could see. Its totally wiped out, POTUS said at this point, according to McClellan.
For long stretches of the coast, not a single building appeared to still be standing, and those few that were appeared severely damaged. Train cars were abandoned off the tracks. Smoke billowed up from a fire. The causeway between Waveland and Pass Christian had totally collapsed, rendered into nothing but rubble. POTUS pointed out a church still standing while all the houses around it were destroyed, McClellan said. Over Gulfport and Biloxi, the casinos were clearly damaged. Around here, C-17 transport planes were visible in the sky delivering supplies. Just after noon central time, Air Force One began climbing again away from the region.
One other nugget from McClellan: Just prior to the flyover, POTUS took a call from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who expressed condolences on the loss of life and damage from the hurricane. The king offered Saudi Arabias support, McClellan said. He said the two did not discuss any increase in oil production by Saudi Arabia, but noted that he had read reports suggesting the Saudis were preparing to help stabilize oil markets. Filed By:
The Washington Post