Memos obtained Monday by The Associated Press show that FEMA struggled to locate food, ice, water and even body bags in the days following Hurricane Katrina.
The former head of FEMA and an agency spokeswoman said in response that the disaster was so enormous that communications were sometimes nonexistent, and that no one memo could show a clear picture of the mammoth mobilization.
The memos show a frantic effort punctuated by bureaucratic chaos, infighting and concerns about media coverage.
Five days after the storm hit on Aug. 29, Michael Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, e-mailed an aide saying there had been "no action from us" to evacuate storm victims using planes that airlines had made available.
A subordinate, Michael Lowder, e-mailed in reply less than 30 minutes later: "This is flat wrong. We have been flying planes all afternoon and evening."
Battling their own difficulties, FEMA officials were less than complimentary of Louisiana officials.
Brown said Monday that the memos "in general, will show that this was a disaster of catastrophic proportions where communications were difficult at best, and communications were nonexistent at other times."