setembro 02, 2005

KATRINA / President Tours Devastation Amid Mounting Criticism

President Bush talks with rescue swimmer Dustin Skarra, right, of Bush, during a briefing on damage from Hurricane Katrina in Mobile, Al., Friday, Sept. 2, 2005. Bush is touring the Gulf Coast communities battered by Hurricane Katrina, hoping to boost the spirits of increasingly desperate storm victims and exhausted rescuers. At far right is Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Calls Relief Efforts 'Not Acceptable'

By Daniela Deane and Jacqueline L. Salmon The Washington Post

President Bush said today that relief efforts to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina are "not acceptable," a rare admission that his administration has not coped effectively in a crisis.

Bush made his comments on the south lawn of the White House before leaving for a tour of the devastated Gulf region.

Once on the ground in Mobile, Ala., Bush promised that the government will rectify the deteriorating situation. "What's not working right, we're going to make it right," Bush said in a hangar in Mobile, where he was briefed by federal officials and the governors of Alabama and Mississippi. "The federal government's job is big and it's massive and we're going to do it. We have a responsibility to clean up this mess."

Bush said that to stop the violence in New Orleans, "we've got to get food to people."

"A lot of people are working hard to help those who have been affected. The results are not acceptable," Bush said before leaving Washington.

In Mobile, the president said that the $10.5 billion in emergency assistance appropriated by the U.S. Congress was only a "down payment" on the aid that will be needed to rebuild the area. "It's as if the entire Gulf coast was obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine," he said.

The president's comments came as the federal government came under mounting criticism from Democrats and some political leaders in the Gulf states, who have called the administration's response to the disaster slow and inadequate. Television pictures of the increasingly desperate plight of those affected by the hurricane have sparked disbelief and consternation among Americans.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who said he would accompany Bush on his tour of Louisiana, said in an interview in Baton Rouge that the federal relief effort has been an "operational failure." He said he planned to tell the president that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been "completely dysfunctional and completely overwhelmed" by the disaster.

During the day, the president, accompanied by federal officials, including Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, will fly over the devastated coastlines of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, according to his official schedule. He will take a walking tour of Biloxi, Miss., and then land at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport, which has been used as an impromptu shelter for refugees from the disaster. He is expected to make a statement on the government's relief efforts at the airport, according to his schedule.

Bush said the government was "making progress" getting people out of the New Orleans Superdome. Tens of thousands of people have taken shelter in the Superdome since the storm hit four days ago. Conditions in the Superdome have deteriorated daily.

Before leaving, Bush said there was "an issue right now at the [New Orleans] convention center." Thousands of refugees at the convention center begged for food, water and help yesterday.

"We're trying to get food and medicine to the convention center," Bush said.

Bush said he was looking forward to talking to people on the ground. "I want to assure the people of the affected areas and this country that we'll deploy the assets necessary to get the situation under control, to get the help to the people who have been affected, and that we're beginning long-term planning to help those who have been displaced, as well as long-term planning to help rebuild the communities that have been affected."

In Mobile, Bush said that "out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf coast, like it was before." He said that New Orleans will emerge a "great city again."

"Now we're in the darkest days," Bush said.