Monday, August 28, 2006

Katrina revealed inadequate response: Bush

Katrina revealed inadequate response: Bush
By Tabassum Zakaria

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (Reuters) - Nearly one year after Hurricane Katrina created a humanitarian and political crisis, President George W. Bush said on Saturday the storm showed the government was unprepared to respond to a disaster of that magnitude and revealed "deep-seated poverty" in America.

Political fallout from the hurricane, which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced tens of thousands, was severe for Bush last year, sending his public opinion ratings to new lows amid widespread criticism that the government's response had been too slow.

He returns next week to the scene of one of the worst natural disasters in American history to meet with local residents and officials to review progress in rebuilding New Orleans and communities along the Gulf Coast that were flooded and destroyed.

"One year after the storms, the Gulf Coast continues down the long road to recovery. In Mississippi and Louisiana, we can see many encouraging signs of recovery and renewal, and many reminders that hard work still lies ahead," Bush said.

"We will stay until the job is done," he pledged in his weekly radio address from Maine, where he was visiting family.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, accused the administration of failing in its hurricane response a year ago and leaving the country exposed to another disaster.

"Countless neighborhoods appear as if the hurricanes were just yesterday and they serve as harsh reminders of how our nation was so unprepared," she said in the Democratic response to Bush's radio address.

"Unfortunately, our nation in many ways remains unprepared for major disasters, whether they be hurricanes, earthquakes, or terrorist attacks."


Democrats, hoping to win control of at least one chamber of Congress in November elections, have been actively trying to remind voters of the Republican administration's slow federal response to Katrina immediately after the hurricane hit.

"It's past time we hold government officials accountable, not just for their policies, but for their follow-through and their competence," Landrieu said.

Some critics have charged the government's slow response to the hurricane was due to racism because the areas hit were largely poor and black, an accusation that administration officials have strongly denied.

"Unfortunately, Katrina also revealed that federal, state, and local governments were unprepared to respond to such an extraordinary disaster," Bush said. "And the floodwaters exposed a deep-seated poverty that has cut people off from the opportunities of our country."

Bush said while the federal government was playing a "vital role" in rebuilding efforts, it was the responsibility of state and local governments to take the lead.

"The federal government will continue to do its part -- yet a reborn Gulf Coast must reflect the needs, the vision, and the aspirations of the people of Mississippi and Louisiana," Bush said.

"And their state and local officials have a responsibility to help set priorities and make tough decisions, so people can plan their futures with confidence," he said.

Bush issued a proclamation declaring August 29, the anniversary of the storm, as a "National Day of Remembrance of Hurricane Katrina" that Americans should mark with appropriate observances.

On Tuesday, Bush was scheduled to visit New Orleans to meet Mayor Ray Nagin and attend a church service marking the Katrina anniversary.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington)