updated 2/22/2006 5:13:51 PM ET 2006-02-22T22:13:51

Ask Irene Tuzinski, a retiree living in a small, northeast Pennsylvania town, about the legacy of Hurricane Katrina, and she answers with an intense blend of bewilderment and outrage.

She questions the government’s handling of the recovery — “What happened to all the money we’re spending on Katrina?” she asks — and she doubts the government could ably handle another major disaster. And a new Associated Press-Ipsos Public Affairs poll suggests she is far from alone.

The poll finds public confidence in government disaster readiness is lower today, six months after Katrina struck, than it was in early September 2005, when images of rooftop-stranded storm victims were fresh in the nation’s mind.

Slightly less than half of those polled, 47 percent, said they were very or somewhat confident in the government’s preparedness — down from 56 percent in the days after the storm and 54 percent in mid-September.

And just one in three Americans is confident the money set aside for Katrina recovery efforts, an expected $100 billion, is being spent wisely, down from half in mid-September, the poll found.

In the eyes of Tuzinski, a 72-year-old former public relations worker now living in Olyphant, Pa., who classifies herself as a strong Democrat, the recovery effort along the Gulf Coast has been lackluster.

'Gang that couldn't shoot straight'
“They just seem like they don’t want to do anything if it’s going to cost any money — it’s just, ‘Let’s hope for the best,”’ she says in a telephone interview. “This is like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

The findings come on the heels of a scathing House report that concluded a failure of initiative and preparation by all levels of government cost lives and prolonged suffering because of the epic hurricane.

“The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina should disturb all Americans,” warned the report, prepared by a Republican-dominated committee that studied the storm and its aftermath.

Video: Katrina tours drives controversy Nearly six months after Katrina made landfall, enormous swaths of Louisiana and Mississippi remain shattered. And earlier this month, the government announced it would no longer pay hotels to house thousands of storm refugees.

The AP-Ipsos poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults Feb. 13-16 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, also found a nearly mirror-image split between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of handling the next major disaster.

Nearly three in four Republicans, 70 percent, said they were confident in the government’s readiness. Almost the same proportion of Democrats, 72 percent, said they were not confident.

Use of funds questioned
But the poll also found a striking drop in confidence among Republicans in whether the federal money earmarked for Gulf Coast recovery was being spent responsibly.

In mid-September, 60 percent of Republicans said they believed that money was being spent wisely. That figure has now dropped to just 37 percent. For Democrats, the figure has dropped from 47 percent five months ago to 30 percent today.

Among the concerned Republicans is David Colony, a 43-year-old stay-at-home father in Waxhaw, N.C., just outside Charlotte. While he believes the government did the best it could during the Katrina disaster, he thinks recovery money is being wasted.

“Everybody threw money at the problem to make it go away from a political standpoint,” says Colony, who classifies himself as strongly Republican.

Racial divide
Almost from the beginning, Hurricane Katrina has proved to be a racial flashpoint in America, with some critics charging the response was slow because so many of its victims were black.

And the poll found notable racial differences in the way the nation thinks about the storm and the recovery effort a half-year later.

Minorities were also nearly twice as likely as whites — 42 percent to 22 percent — to say the government should be spending more on the recovery. Minorities were also less likely to express confidence in how the government would handle a future disaster.

And 77 percent of minorities polled said Katrina recovery should be a higher priority for government spending than the war in Iraq, compared with just 58 percent among whites.

In all, Americans said by a 2-to-1 margin that the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort should be a higher priority than the Iraq war.

“Charity starts at home,” said Thomas Stockman, 63, a Vietnam veteran in Lawton, Okla. “Take care of your own country before you get involved taking care of other countries.”

But to Colony, the stay-at-home father, Iraq should be the higher priority because it is tied to the war on terrorism. “Katrina is nothing,” he says, “compared to if someone blows up half of — well, pick a city.”

The poll did find one somber point of broad agreement among Americans. By a margin of almost nine to one, they characterized the current state of storm-stricken Louisiana and Mississippi as badly damaged, not mostly recovered.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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