AUSTIN, Texas — President Bush said Monday that coordination among states and the federal government in response to Hurricane Gustav has been better than during Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005 and tattered his administration’s reputation for handling crises.
Bush visited an emergency operations center in Austin, about 400 miles west of Cocodrie, La., near where Gustav struck land. Gustav packed more than 100 mph winds, but delivered only a glancing blow to New Orleans, raising hopes that the city would escape the kind of catastrophic flooding wrought by Katrina, which killed nearly 1,600, obliterated 90,000 square miles of property and cost billions of dollars in response and repairs.
At an emergency operations center in Austin, Texas, Bush said the federal government’s job was to assist states affected by the storm. He said he wanted to ensure that assets were in place to handle the storm, and that preparations are being made to help the Gulf Coast recover.
“The coordination on this storm is a lot better than on — than during Katrina,” Bush said noting how the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas had been working in concert. “It was clearly a spirit of sharing assets, of listening to somebody’s problems and saying, ‘How can we best address them?”’
Thanks to the evacuees
He lauded Gulf Coast residents who heeded warnings to evacuate.
“It’s hard for a citizen to pull up stakes, and move out of their home, and face the uncertainty that comes when you’re not at home, and I want to thank those citizens who listened carefully to their local authorities and evacuated,” Bush said.
Later, at another command center in San Antonio, Bush made a plea for Americans to help support recovery efforts by donating to relief agencies.
“Nobody’s happy about these storms,” he said. “Everybody’s praying for everybody’s safety, but I’m confident that after the storm passes, if there’s a human need, it will be met because of the generosity of the American people.”
David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters on Bush’s plane en route that there has been “unprecedented cooperation” among federal agencies and the private sector. “What it allows us to do is share information of what’s going on so we don’t end up with what happened in Katrina, with different agencies doing things and others not knowing what’s happening,” he said.
Paulison said the help came ahead of the storm time, significantly easing evacuations. Everyone in New Orleans who wanted to evacuate could have, Paulison said. “There should not be any excuses,” he said. “If people stayed in New Orleans, it was their choice.”
The enduring memory of Katrina is not the ferocity of the storm, but the bungled reaction that led to preventable deaths and chaos. Disaster response has undoubtedly improved since then. But Katrina was a low chapter in American history, and it deeply eroded credibility in Bush’s administration.
45,000 La. evacuees likely in Texas
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, greeted Bush as he got off the plane in shirt sleeves on a hot, sunny day in Texas.
Perry said state authorities had evacuated 10,000 special needs citizens from the Texas coast and about 280,000 other Texans have been evacuated from Orange, Jefferson and Chambers counties. In all, Texas anticipates 45,000 to 50,000 evacuees from Louisiana, Perry said. During the briefing, Perry turned to Bush and said, “Your home state did good.”
By flying to Texas, Bush clearly wanted to show the nation, and particularly people of the Gulf Coast, that he is committed to answering their needs. He said he hopes to get to Louisiana, too, but will choose a time that does not interfere with emergency response efforts.
First lady Laura Bush also was involved in the administration’s effort to stress that things would be different this time. “Mistakes were made by everyone” at all levels of government in the handling of Katrina, Mrs. Bush said Monday on CNN.
“Part of it was not being able to have the good communication that you would need between the three governments,” said Mrs. Bush, who also was to speak Monday at the GOP convention. “And we have taken care of that, we know that’s a lot better. And the lessons that were learned from Katrina can serve the United States very well in any kind of disaster.”
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