EVACUATING NEW ORLEANS….One of the great and enduring mysteries about the aftermath of Katrina has been the Great Bus Question. Where were they? Why weren’t they used to immediately evacuate the Superdome and the Convention Center? National Review posed this question vividly ? and tacitly placed the blame for the lack of buses on local officials, not FEMA ? by filling its cover with a famous photo of a fleet of New Orleans schoolbuses trapped and useless in three feet of water after the storm passed.

A couple of days ago, Michelle Millhollon of the Baton Rouge Advocate got Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco’s side of the story:

Hours after the hurricane hit [Monday] Aug. 29, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a plan to send 500 commercial buses into New Orleans to rescue thousands of people left stranded on highways, overpasses and in shelters, hospitals and homes.

On the day of the storm, or perhaps the day after, FEMA turned down the state’s suggestion to use school buses because they are not air conditioned, Blanco said Friday in an interview.

….The state had sent 68 school buses into the city on Monday. Blanco took over more buses from Louisiana school systems and sent them in on Wednesday, two days after the storm. She tapped the National Guard to drive them.

….On Wednesday, with the FEMA buses still not in sight, Blanco called the White House to talk to Bush and ended up speaking to Chief of Staff Andy Card….Card promised to get Blanco more buses.

….”I had security in the knowledge that there were 500 buses,” she said. “Mike [Brown] had emphasized the buses to me personally. That was not my first concern until I realized that they were not there.”

Meanwhile, the state continued to send school buses into the affected areas.

One of Blanco’s aides, Leonard Kleinpeter, said FEMA told him at one point that the state could stop sending school buses because the agency was going to bring in helicopters and use them instead of the commercial buses that still weren’t there.

Blanco told Kleinpeter to ignore those instructions.

Is this the straight dope? It’s certainly free of any wiggle room if Blanco isn’t telling the truth. Will we ever hear FEMA’s side of this, or has that chance disappeared completely with Mike Brown’s resignation?

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