Former Vice President Al Gore urged Americans on Friday to hold the Bush administration accountable for failing to adequately prepare for and respond to Hurricane Katrina.
"When the corpses of American citizens are floating in toxic flood waters five days after a hurricane struck, it is time not only to respond directly to the victims of the catastrophe, but to hold ... the leaders of our nation accountable," Gore told environmentalists at the Sierra Club's national convention.
Gore had been scheduled to give a speech to state insurance commissioners in New Orleans this weekend about the likelihood that global warming will spawn increasingly deadly hurricanes. He decided to take his speech to San Francisco after that conference was canceled.
"The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis, it is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences," Gore said.
Bush administration officials have said Katrina's damage could not have been anticipated, but Gore rejected that.
"What happened was not only knowable, it was known in advance, in great and painstaking detail. They did tabletop planning exercises. They identified exactly what the scientific evidence showed would take place," Gore said.
In his Sierra Club speech, the former senator from Tennessee didn't mention an act of mercy that he was personally involved in -- his help airlifting some 270 Katrina evacuees on two private charters from New Orleans to Tennessee on Sept. 3 and 4. He did that at the urging of a doctor who saved the life of his son years earlier.
Dr. Anderson Spickard, who is Gore's personal physician and accompanied him on the flights, told The Associated Press that "Gore told me he wanted to do this because like all of us he wanted to seize the opportunity to do what one guy can do, given the assets that he has."
An account of the flights was posted this week on a Democratic Party Web page. It was written by Greg Simon, president of the Washington-based activist group FasterCures. Simon, who helped put together the mission, also declined an interview.
On Sept. 1, three days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Simon learned that Dr. David Kline, a neurosurgeon who operated on Gore's son, Albert, after a life-threatening auto accident in 1989, was trying to get in touch with Gore. Kline was stranded with patients at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.
"The situation was dire and becoming worse by the minute -- food and water running out, no power, 4 feet of water surrounding the hospital and ... corpses outside," Simon wrote.
Gore responded immediately, telephoning Kline and agreeing to underwrite the $50,000 each for the two flights, although Larry Flax, founder of California Pizza Kitchens, later pledged to pay for one of them.
"None of the airlines involved required a contract or any written guarantee of payment before sending their planes and volunteer crews," Simon wrote of the American Airlines flights. "One official said if Gore promised to pay, that was good enough for them."
He also recruited two doctors, Spickard and Gore's cousin, retired Col. Dar LaFon, a specialist in internal medicine who once ran the military hospital in Baghdad.
Most critically, Gore worked to cut through government red tape, personally calling Gov. Phil Bredesen to get Tennessee's support and U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta to secure landing rights in New Orleans.
About 140 people, many of them sick, landed in Knoxville on Sept. 3. The second flight, with 130 evacuees, landed the next day in Chattanooga.
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