It's taken a couple of record hurricanes, but the White House and federal disaster officials seem finally to have gotten their act together. President Bush had barely awakened the morning after Hurricane Iniki smashed into Kauai Friday when he declared the Hawaiian island a disaster area. Army and Navy units were already headed from nearby bases and, wonder of wonders, Federal Emergency Management Agency advance teams were on the island even before the storm struck.
Washington's response to natural disasters like the major storms that hit South Florida last month and Kauai last week -- the sort of calamities state and local governments cannot handle by themselves -- should not have political implications. Citizens of a country as highly developed as this one should be able to assume that their national government will immediately come to their relief with food, water, medical aid, shelter and restored public utilities. But FEMA's slow response to Hurricane Andrew last month, following similar complaints after Hurricane Hugo and the San Francisco earthquake in 1989, injured the president politically and touched off some partisan finger-pointing. It was especially embarrassing for Mr. Bush since Florida is a state he badly needs to carry in November.
Cleanup and emergency assistance seem well under way on Kauai. Fortunately the human toll seems again to be low $H considering the severity of the storm, thanks in part to good advance warning. As in Florida and Louisiana, the storm missed a nearby densely populated area -- Oahu in this case -- that would have been a costlier target.