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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Wrong Numbers on a Tin Roof

During his last press conference with White House reporters yesterday, President Bush defended his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, saying, “don’t tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed.” He even repeated the statistic three times.

The performance of the Coast Guard in response to the natural disaster has been commended by many, but that statistic is a bit inflated, according to the Guard’s own records.

While the White House report on Katrina summarized that the “Coast Guard teams alone ultimately rescued and evacuated over 33,000 people,” the Coast Guard provides a more detailed break down of that figure.

As part of a Katrina Documentation project, the Coast Guard’s historian explained that “search and rescue operations alone saved 24,135 lives from imminent danger, usually off the roofs of the victims’ homes as flood waters lapped at their feet.” The 33,000 figure the administration cites in its report, and which Bush referenced in his press conference, includes 9,409 patients from local hospitals that the Guard “evacuated to safety” according to the service’s historian.