More than 900 pages of government e-mails to and from former FEMA director Michael Brown during the Hurricane Katrina crisis chronicle a succession of problems, from cell phone and communications breakdowns to underreporting the severity of levee breaks. The e-mails were provided to ABC News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The e-mails also document a range of other preoccupations, including Brown's hair styling and praise and criticism from ordinary Americans watching the crisis unfold on TV.
Many of the e-mails have never been publicly available, while others were previously released by congressional committees investigating FEMA's performance. Together they offer additional insight into what occupied Brown's time during the early days of Katrina, before his dismissal.
Brown's name became synonymous with government ineptitude in the aftermath of the hurricane, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. He resigned from FEMA shortly after the storm.
FEMA redacted and withheld certain communications to protect the "internal decision-making process of government" and privacy where relevant. These exceptions to disclosure are allowed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Communications appeared doomed even before Katrina's landfall, when cell phones apparently did not work properly in FEMA's Washington headquarters, hundreds of miles away from the approaching storm.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco urgently tried to reach Brown on the Saturday morning before Katrina hit land, but the FEMA director was out of cell phone range while sitting in FEMA headquarters. Brown wrote to a staffer, "I'll try to call her [Blanco] back in just a bit. FYI I'm at HQ but down in the studio most of the rest of the a.m. Cell isn't working down there."
In another e-mail later that day, Brown wrote, "the cell may not work while at HQ on the mezzanine."
Later that afternoon, the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management wrote Brown to offer the state's resources to help storm victims if Katrina avoided a second landfall in that state.
Brown wrote back, "This one has me really worried ... look at this scenario compared to the cat planning we did for New Orleans and, well you get the picture."
Brown added, "I wish a certain governor was from Louisianam ... and his emergency manager" -- an apparent reference to Brown's preference for working with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over Blanco and her staff.
At 6:21 a.m. on the morning of Katrina's landfall, Brown wrote to his deputy Patrick Rhode to say, "Yes, sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair. ..."
One hour later, the e-mails took a more serious tone.
At 7:36, an e-mail to Brown alerted, "NBC reporting that windows being blown out at the Hyatt Regency in NO." Another at 9:09, with the subject line "Superdome" said, "CNN reporting a massive piece of the superdome roof blew off, people being moved."
At 9:39, Brown was informed of a report that "the levee in Arabi has failed ... next to the industrial canal."
At 9:53 a.m., an e-mail to Brown contained this bulletin from WWL TV, "A LEVEE BREACHED OCCURRED ALONG THE INDUSTRIAL CANAL AT TENNESSE STREET. 3 TO 8 FEET OF WATER EXPECTED DUE TO THE BREACH ... LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO ARABI AND 9TH WARD OF NEW ORLEANS."