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Bush Vows To Move Forward on Hurricane Relief

Bush Vows To Move Forward on Hurricane Relief, Reconstruction

President visits Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast for third time in a week

By Michael O'Toole
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- "I want the people of this state and the state of Mississippi to understand that we're moving forward with relief plans. We're going to move forward with reconstruction plans … and we're going to do so in a coordinated way," President Bush told the citizens of Louisiana September 12 during his third trip to the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Bush began a two-day visit to areas affected by the impact of the hurricane aboard the USS Iwo Jima -- an amphibious assault ship anchored outside New Orleans that is serving as a command center for military operations. The August 29 hurricane severely damaged parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The storm also breached levees protecting New Orleans causing extensive and damaging flooding of the city.

The president was briefed aboard the ship on the latest relief and recovery efforts by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the head of the relief mission. Allen replaced Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Director Michael Brown, who had been criticized for his agency's allegedly slow response to the disaster. Brown resigned his directorship later on September 12.

After the briefing, the president toured New Orleans in an open military truck, part of a convoy that plowed through muddy, waterlogged streets. Joining him were Admiral Allen, Louisiana Governor Katherine Blanco, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, commander of military relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region.

Speaking to reporters after the tour, Bush responded to a question on whether the U.S Congress should consider legislation allowing the federal government to act more quickly in a disaster. “There will be time to take a step back and to take a sober look at what went right and what didn't go right," the president said.

"There's a lot of information floating around that will be analyzed in an objective way," he added. "[I]t's important for the people of this country to understand that all of us want to learn lessons. If there were to be a biological attack of some kind, we've got to make sure we understand the lessons learned to be able to deal with catastrophe."

Bush later flew to St. Bernard Parish, another area in Louisiana hard hit by the hurricane. He ended his visit with a stop in Gulfport, Mississippi, before returning to Washington.

AIRPORT REOPENS, PORT REOPENING, DRAINING MOVING RAPIDLY

Amid the signs of recovery, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport reopened for cargo traffic September 11, and planned to open to limited passenger service starting September 13. The Port of New Orleans planned to reopen its container terminal September 14.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said most of the city could be drained within a month, though some areas hit by the storm surge could take longer. A spokesman said the work could be complete by October 18, about 40 days after pumping began -- far ahead of original estimates of up to 80 days to dry out portions of the city.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the parent agency of FEMA, said on September 11 that a total of $758 million has been provided directly to households affected by the hurricane in the form of checks, debit cards and direct deposits into bank accounts.

DHS also reported 49,700 rescues had been performed and that 141,000 people were now in shelters. About 22.5 million meals and 53.3 million liters of water also have been distributed, according to the department.

DHS also said that 20,000 active duty military and 4,000 Coast Guard personnel are assigned to relief-and-recovery operations, along with approximately 50,000 National Guard troops.

INTERNATIONAL RELIEF EFFORTS CONTINUE

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli announced September 12 that the United States to date had received offers of assistance from 118 countries and 12 international organizations.

"So far, 30 planes have landed from abroad with relief supplies. At the present time, there is an additional plane landing from NATO." Ereli said "It's the first in what we expect will be a number of flights from NATO with relief supplies."

In his remarks in New Orleans, Bush made it clear that the region’s future primarily would be a vision of its people. "I think the best policy is one in which the federal government doesn't come down and say here's what your city will look like,” he said. "The best policy is one where the local folks say here's what we want our city to look like and let's work together to achieve that vision."

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