The Master of Disaster

When the floodwaters spread across Wisconsin, state officials begged for help from Washington, but it's safe to say that none of them expected it would arrive by Greyhound bus at 3 a.m., wearing ostrich-skin cowboy boots and missing a suitcase. But then, few in Wisconsin or Washington knew James Lee Witt.

A native of Wildcat Hollow, Arkansas, Witt, 49, had only three months earlier taken charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, long derided as a dumping ground for political hacks and feckless bureaucrats. Most recently, FEMA was blamed for mishandling relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew. Witt has brought to the...

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