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Katrina victims blame racism for slow response

To victims testifying before a bipartisan congressional committee Tuesday about hurricane Katrina, it was all about race. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports on the outrage felt by the majority of blacks in New Orleans.

In New Orleans, according to a Gallup poll, six in 10 blacks said if most of hurricane Katrina’s victims were white the rescues would have come faster.

"The people of New Orleans were stranded in a flood and were allowed to die," said New Orleans resident Leah Hodges Tuesday before a bipartisan congressional committee in Washington. "What happened to us was foreseeable and preventable."

"Who comes rescue with guns, no life vests?" asked fellow Katrina victim Dyan Cole French.

To these victims, it was all about race. 

"I think if it was not poor African-Americans who would be affected by this, there would have been a plan in place," said Katrina victim Doreen Keeler. "There would have been equipment in place. There would have been everything needed in place."

Those perceptions were apparent to the White House almost immediately. In his Sept. 12 speech in New Orleans, President Bush said, "The storm didn't discriminate and neither will we in the recovery effort."

But, 100 days later, New Orleans residents are still furious.

"I blame local. I blame state. I blame federal," said Keeler. "I think we got disappointed by every rank of government that exists."

Those feelings remain strong in the Lower Ninth Ward, where a lack of any progress is also blamed on racial politics.

"I come representing the people sitting on Derjunois Street right now, around a brick-made fireplace because that's the only heat we have in December," Cole French told the panel. "The hurricane happened in August!"

Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, FEMA e-mails released Monday show top officials recognized their inability to get water and ice to victims.

One e-mail, sent three days after the storm, says if only limited supplies arrive, "we will have serious riots."