Bush vows `huge' aid effort in 2nd Gulf Coast visit

Rescuers step up search for survivors and bodies

Katrina recovery shows progress

Katrina's Wake

September 06, 2005|By Alec MacGillis, Douglas Birch and Jonathan Pitts | Alec MacGillis, Douglas Birch and Jonathan Pitts,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - As rescuers intensified their search yesterday for survivors and bodies in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, President Bush returned to the stricken area to thank relief workers and pledge a "huge effort" to help the region recover from Hurricane Katrina and the floods left in its wake.

"This is a long-term project to help these people. And this country is going to be committed to doing what it takes to help people get back on their feet," Bush said while visiting a shelter in Baton Rouge. "We've got a lot of work to do, and that's why I'm here, to tell people we'll get it done."

The full scale of the looming recovery effort became clearer yesterday, both in New Orleans and in parishes around the city that had been devastated by the storm and subsequent flooding and isolated for most of last week. In rural Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans, residents trickled in to find utter devastation, while in suburban Jefferson Parish west of the city, residents were allowed back in only to salvage belongings.

Slowly but surely, however, recovery and repair also progressed. In New Orleans, Louisiana officials reported late in the day that repairs had been completed on the 17th Street Canal levee breach, where flooding began, and that water was being pumped out of the canal and into Lake Pontchartrain, the huge Gulf of Mexico inlet north of the city.

Bush's visit to the area, his second in four days, followed a weekend of continued second-guessing and recrimination over the halting government response last week to the damage wrought by the storm, particularly in flooded New Orleans. While federal officials have sought to deflect blame onto state and local officials in the region, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has refused to sign over National Guard control to the government and has turned to the Clinton administration's head of emergency operations to help manage relief efforts.

Strain lingered beneath the surface of Bush's visit, which also included a stop in Poplarville, Miss. Blanco, who was not informed of the timing of Bush's visit, offered only a terse introduction for the president. Bush, who choked up briefly in his remarks at the shelter, kissed Blanco's cheek but otherwise kept his distance.

The president's reception among hurricane victims was likewise ambivalent. Some people staying at the huge shelter, at the Bethany World Prayer Center, rushed to greet the president and Laura Bush, but others hung back.

"I'm not star-struck. I need answers," said Mildred Brown, who has been at the shelter since Tuesday with her husband, mother-in-law and cousin. "I'm not interested in hand-shaking. I'm not interested in photo-ops. This is going to take a lot of money."

While charges continued to fly over last week's delays in mobilization, waves of troops continued to pour into the region, one week after the storm hit. The Pentagon increased to 8,500 the number of active-duty forces bound for the region, where they will join close to 40,000 National Guardsmen called up from around the country.

Meanwhile, however, roughly a quarter of the New Orleans police force remained unaccounted for, according to Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley said. Two officers have committed suicide in recent days.

Throughout the day, police officers, National Guardsmen and 82nd Airborne soldiers stepped up their efforts to find the few thousand residents still believed to be stranded and urged them onto boats, trucks and helicopters leaving the city. Troops stopped short of forcing residents to leave, but used the strongest terms of persuasion, telling them that the city would be unlivable for weeks.

"We advise people that this city has been destroyed," said Riley, in a news briefing.

At the same time as soldiers were trying to corral stranded residents, they were also having to contend with some evacuees trying to return to the city to inspect their homes. One man driving an SUV said he had managed to sneak back to his home four times in recent days.

Those who did agree to leave their homes were taken to Louis Armstrong International Airport. There, they were evaluated by military and civilian medical teams and assigned either to be flown to hospitals or shelters around the country, from San Antonio to Atlanta and beyond.

Air Force Col. Larry Riddles, a physician helping oversee the airport processing, said the evacuations were likely going to continue for the foreseeable future - "until we see the day that New Orleans is completely evacuated." He said it was imperative that the city be emptied as soon as possible.

"You have to restore the whole destroyed infrastructure. Otherwise, it's like leaving someone to live on a desert island," he said. "Every day they are out there is another day without food or water. It's a ticking time bomb."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.