Bush OKs aid boost to $60 billion

Mandatory evacuation means New Orleans residents facing force

Katrina's Wake

September 09, 2005|By Douglas Birch and Arthur Hirsch | Douglas Birch and Arthur Hirsch,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - President Bush signed into law yesterday hurricane recovery funds that will boost spending sixfold to $60 billion, and for those resisting evacuation orders here, the time for a polite escort seemed to be running out.

"You can come out on your own today," Sgt. 1st Class Karl August of the Texas National Guard said yesterday. "Tomorrow you come out by force."

Some survivors said yesterday that evacuation teams had already resorted to force.

"They turned us out physically with a gun," said Patricia Audiberg, 65, a resident of the Nazareth Inn assisted living center in the northeast part of the city that was running on a generator.

She said police had guns drawn but did not point them at anyone.

Linda Goudeaux, a woman in her 40s, said yesterday that two police officers walked into her third-floor apartment in the northeast section of the city with guns drawn.

"He told me he would shoot me if he had to," said Goudeaux, as she rode in the back of an open National Guard truck toward a helicopter landing pad across from the convention center near downtown. From there she would get a ride to the Louis Armstrong International Airport for a medical check, then move on to temporary shelter.

While most residents left peacefully yesterday, local police officers began confiscating weapons in preparation for more forced evacuations.

This was the rough road to hurricane assistance, which grew more abundant yesterday as Congress approved $51.8 billion more for the recovery effort, bringing total federal spending on the disaster to more than $60 billion, with much more to come.

Bush promised to "cut through the red tape" to quickly deliver benefits.

"The people who have been hurt by this storm need to know that the government is going to be with you for the long haul," Bush said in a brief speech at the White House yesterday afternoon.

Bush spoke as Vice President Dick Cheney toured the stricken Gulf Coast, continuing an effort to demonstrate full engagement in the crisis, as critics have charged the administration reacted slowly to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

After walking through debris fields that were once neighborhoods in Gulfport, Miss., Cheney said he was "tremendously heartened and encouraged by the commitment and the enthusiasm and the spirit, if you will, of the people that are most directly affected by it - the ones who are out here doing it day in and day out."

Bush said the $2,000-per- family debit-card program already announced would be sped up and workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross were working to get the money into the hands of those who needed it. He said about 400,000 families had registered with FEMA for federal help and 3,000 people were taking calls around the clock at the agency, with the number of operators to be increased "dramatically" very soon.

The pledge to deliver benefits without delay came amid reports from Houston of confusion and tensions in distributing the debit cards. Hundreds of people displaced by the storm and flooding lined up outside the Astrodome to wait for cards, but not all could get them.

The Red Cross had handed out appointment slips for people to get Red Cross debit cards at specific times. But out of confusion or anxiety, people started lining up before dawn, and some were overcome by heat during the day, the Associated Press reported.

Jerry Augillard, a 53-year-old laborer from New Orleans, was waiting yesterday afternoon at Reliant Park - which includes the Astrodome and three other convention and event venues - to register for food stamps.

"The services are coming through, but they're taking their own time about doing anything other than talking," Augillard said. "There's a lot of waiting in line."

His nephew, 37-year-old Brian Williams, said he had heard from friends in St. Louis who received debit cards and housing days ago.

"Under the conditions in Houston, FEMA has been kind of slow," said Williams, who ran a car-detailing business in New Orleans. "Other programs, like the Red Cross, seem to have a better grip on what's going on."

Linda Porter planned to spend the $660 on her Red Cross debit card on food, clothes and household goods for the apartment that relief workers helped her find. She was waiting for her daughter to get a card.

"The service has been pretty good," said Porter, 55, who arrived in Houston last week. "There's a lot of people here, and it takes time. I'm a patient person."

The House passed the emergency spending legislation by a vote of 410-11. All eight members of Maryland's delegation voted for it. The Senate approved the money last night, 97-0.

But even as lawmakers came together to send money to Katrina's victims, the partisan clash over how to evaluate the government's relief efforts intensified.

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