The former general manager of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, where embattled "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams reportedly roomed during Hurricane Katrina, said Sunday (Feb. 8) that neither mass flooding nor floating human remains were near the hotel after the levees broke. Her statement raises questions about Williams' stated Katrina experiences and could add to a pool of public skepticism regarding his tale.
Williams recounted his time reporting on Katrina in a 2006 interview with Disney CEO Michael Eisner. "When you look out of your hotel room window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country," he said.
As critics have pointed out, much of the French Quarter stayed dry after the storm, due to its position on high ground. However, there were rising waters as far up as Bourbon and Royal streets shortly after Katrina, geographer Richard Campanella said Friday.
But Myra deGersdorff, the ex-manager of the Ritz-Carlton who works as a chief human resources officer in Scottsdale, Ariz., questioned the claim Sunday that such horrors occurred anywhere near her former hotel.
"There is no physical way the water was deep enough for a body to float in," she said.
The Ritz-Carlton's underground basement briefly flooded, leading to a delayed re-opening 15 months after the storm, deGersdorff said.
But its first floor received only six to eight inches of water. Other area hotels, including the J.W. Marriott New Orleans, which is two blocks from the Ritz-Carlton, were open shortly after Aug. 29, 2005, she recalled.
Water only reached the front door at the Marriott, according to a Sept. 26, 2005 article in The Washington Post.
"I don't know what Brian Williams saw or didn't see, but I for sure didn't see any bodies floating," deGersdorff continued. Neither did her staff report such a sight, she said.
DeGersdorff declined to confirm or deny that Williams was a guest at the hotel, citing guest-privacy rules. The Associated Press quoted an anonymous source at NBC as saying that Williams did room there.
Williams first came under fire when he apologized during the Wednesday (Feb. 4) newscast for falsely saying he was aboard a helicopter hit by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003.
He has since taken himself off the air, and NBC has launched an investigation into his Iraq and Hurricane Katrina reporting. Williams and the NBC Nightly News team received an Emmy, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and a Peabody Award for the Katrina coverage, according to the New York Daily News.
An NBC executive has said that the probe hasn't uncovered any problems with Williams' past reporting that would change his status, the L.A. Times reported Sunday.