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Federal aid efforts criticized sharply
President Bush and federal relief agencies drew sharp criticism yesterday for the speed and effectiveness of the national government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans flood.
With New Orleans and its thousands of stranded residents sliding into anarchy — without food, water, or medical care — Terry Ebbert, chief of Homeland Security for New Orleans — complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not offering enough help.
“This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace,” he said. “FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.”
In addition to city officials, rumbles of discontent are coming from surprising quarters, including conservative commentators and even one of Mr. Bush’s closest political associates.
Joseph Allbaugh, the president’s first FEMA director and a longtime Bush friend, says that FEMA workers are having a more difficult time than they should getting into the affected areas.
“A lot of decisions are being made that aren’t being coordinated very well,” he told Fox News.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who had planned to promote September as National Preparedness Month yesterday, had to answer questions about his agency’s own preparations for the hurricane.
“We totally understand what it’s like to be sitting on top of a roof or to be sitting in a shelter where it’s hot, where you’re worried about when you’re going to be picked up, where you’re thirsty, where you’re hungry, where you’re afraid for yourself and afraid for members of your family,” Mr. Chertoff said during a hastily called press conference.
“Before Hurricane Katrina had even made landfall, the president declared emergencies in these areas. And that allowed us to preposition and start to distribute resources in the affected areas,” Mr. Chertoff said.
“We prepositioned 18 disaster medical teams, medical supplies and equipment, urban search and rescue teams. All of these were prestaged, along with millions of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), liters of water, tarpaulins and truckloads of ice. By prepositioning these resources, we were able to speed our ability to deliver these necessary supplies,” Mr. Chertoff said.
However, the prepositioned teams were not inside the hardest-hit area of New Orleans, where television cameras yesterday showed dead bodies on the streets and reporters told of widespread incidents of murders, rapes, robberies, sniper shootings and carjackings.
In the first response statement issued Tuesday afternoon by the Homeland Security Department, the department said 23 medical response teams were sent to staging areas in Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama and that FEMA “is now moving them into impacted areas.”
Additionally, seven urban search-and-rescue teams and two incident support teams were prepositioned in Shreveport, La., and Jackson, Miss.
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin yesterday issued a “desperate SOS,” saying the stadium area was “unsanitary and unsafe, and we are running out of supplies for 15,000 to 25,000 people.”
Despite pleas from two public hospital administrators that they were running out of food, FEMA administrator Mike Brown said there is no truth to reports food is scarce in New Orleans.
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