Chertoff Learned of Levee Failure 36 Hours After Mayor Nagin?

Homeland Security chief Mike Chertoff today offered the administration’s (first, second) third excuse for their lack of preparedness for Katrina:

Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, “New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.” Because if you recall, the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee — may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday — that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city. I think that second catastrophe really caught everybody by surprise.

In other words, it’s not that we didn’t expect the levee system would burst. It’s that the storm passed and the levees remained in tact, and when we found out afterwards they had failed, it was already too late.

The problem: we didn’t learn that the levees were failing on “midday Tuesday.” We learned Monday morning:

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on NBC’s “Today Show” there was already “significant flooding” in the city, most of which lies below sea level.

“I’ve gotten reports this morning that there’s already water coming over some of the levee systems,” he said.