By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer
President Bush said Tuesday that "I take responsibility" for failures
in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster raised broader
questions about the government's ability to respond to natural
disasters as well as terror attacks.
"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all
levels of government," Bush said at joint White House news conference
with the president of Iraq.
"To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I
take responsibility," Bush said.
The president was asked whether people should be worried about the
government's ability to handle another terrorist attack given failures
in responding to Katrina.
"Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack? That's a very
important question and it's in the national interest that we find out
what went on so we can better respond," Bush replied.
He said he wanted to know both what went wrong and what went right.
As for blunders in the federal response, "I'm not going to defend the
process going in," Bush said. "I am going to defend the people saving
He praised relief workers at all levels. "I want people in America to
understand how hard people worked to save lives down there," he said.
Bush spoke after R. David Paulison, the new acting director of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency, pledged to intensify efforts to
find more permanent housing for the tens of thousands of Hurricane
Katrina survivors now in shelters.
It was the closest Bush has come to publicly finding fault with any
federal officials involved in the hurricane response, which has been
widely criticized as disjointed and slow. Some federal officials have
sought to fault state and local officials for being unprepared to cope
with the disaster.
Bush planned to address the nation Thursday evening from Louisiana,
where he will be monitoring recovery efforts, the White House
announced earlier Tuesday.
Paulison, in his first public comments since taking the job on Monday,
told reporters: "We're going to get those people out of the shelters,
and we're going to move and get them the help they need."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff introduced Paulison as
the Bush administration tried to deflect criticism for the sluggish
initial federal response to the hurricane and its disastrous
Chertoff said that while cleanup, relief and reconstruction from
Katrina is now the government's top priority, the administration would
not let down its guard on other potential dangers. He noted that the
administration would 'try to do better' with 'terrorists' than was
initially done with Katrina.
"The world is not going to stop moving because we are very focused on
Katrina," Chertoff said.
Paulison, named to the post on Monday, said he was busy "getting
brought up to speed."
He replaced Michael Brown, who resigned on Monday, three days after
being removed from being the top onsite federal official in charge of
the government's response.
Paulison said Bush called him Monday night and "thanked me for coming on
Bush promised that he would have "the full support of the federal
government," Paulison said.
Chertoff said the relief operation had entered a new phase.
Initially, he said, the most important priority was evacuating people,
getting them to safety, providing food, water and medical care.
"And then ultimately at the end of the day, we have to reconstitute
the communities that have been devastated," Chertoff added.
He said the federal government would look increasingly to state and
local officials for guidance on rebuilding the devastated communities
along the Gulf Coast.
"The federal government can't drive permanent solutions down the
throats of state and local officials," Chertoff said. "I don't think
anyone should envision a situation in which they're going to take a
back seat. They're going to take a front seat," he said.
Chertoff said that teams of federal auditors were being dispatched to
the stricken areas to make sure that billions of dollars worth of
government contracts were being properly spent. "We want to get aid to
people who need it quickly, but we also don't want to lose sight of
the importance of preserving the integrity of the process and our
responsibility as stewards of the public money," Chertoff said.
"We're going to cut through red tape," he said, "but we're not going
to cut through laws and rules that govern ethics."
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that some
military aircraft and other equipment may be able to move out of the
Gulf Coast soon.
"We've got to the point where most if not all of the search and rescue
is completed," said Rumsfeld, who is attending a NATO meeting in
Berlin. "Some helicopters can undoubtedly be moved out over the
He also said there is a very large surplus of hospital beds in the
region, so those could also be decreased. The USS Comfort hospital
ship arrived near the Mississippi coast late last week. Rumsfeld added
that nothing will be moved out of the area without the authorization
of the two states' governors, the military leaders there and the
Elsewhere, workers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
aren't finding many sick people, even though the specter of diseases
has alarmed relief and rescue figures. Instead, between 40 and 50
percent of patients seeking emergency care have injuries. The CDC has
counted 148 injuries in just the last two days, Carol Rubin, an agency
hurricane relief specialist, said by telephone from the government's
new public health headquarters in New Orleans' Kindred Hospital.
While she couldn't provide a breakdown, Rubin said chain saw injuries
and carbon monoxide exposure from generators are among them. Those are
particularly worrisome because they're likely to become more common as
additional hurricane survivors re-enter the city in coming days, she
The message: Those injuries are preventable, if people take proper
precautions, Rubin stressed.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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