- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

President Bush’s campaign is determined not to repeat the mistakes that cost his father a second term — and there is no better example than the administration’s swift reaction to hurricanes that have hammered Florida this election year.

Mr. Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, toured the storm-ravaged state yesterday, personally handing out water and ice to residents still lacking basic utility service and supplies in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances.

“Once again, Florida faced the devastation of a hurricane. And once again, the people of Florida are showing their character and their strength and their deep concern for their neighbors,” the president said.

“I want the people of Florida and other affected areas to know that the federal government [is] doing everything we can to help you.”

Even as the president promised aid to victims of Charley and Frances, Floridians warily eyed yet another deadly hurricane, Ivan, now plowing into the Caribbean. With winds up to 140 mph, Ivan killed 12 persons and destroyed 90 percent of the homes on the island of Grenada, officials there said.

The storm, which already had been blamed for three other deaths, churned toward Jamaica and Cuba. At 8 p.m. EDT, Ivan’s eye was about 95 miles north-northeast of Curacao and moving west-northwest at 17 mph.

Before leaving for his tour of Florida yesterday, the president signed a bill releasing $2 billion in federal aid, with more promised.

It was his second post-hurricane visit to the key battleground state in 3 weeks. When Hurricane Charley slammed into the west coast of the state last month, Mr. Bush ordered federal aid for the cleanup before the eye of the storm had been inland for an hour.

This administration’s quick reaction to the disasters of hurricanes Charley and Frances stand in stark contrast to his father’s 1992 response to Hurricane Andrew — the most devastating storm to hit Florida.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said the first President Bush took a political hit as a result of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s slow reaction to Hurricane Andrew.

As transportation secretary when Hurricane Andrew struck, Mr. Card led the hurricane task force and saw the devastation firsthand, and said he learned from the experience.

“I knew that the magnitude of this recovery was so large that it would be second-guessed forever,” Mr. Card said during a press briefing during the Republican National Convention last week.

Two days after Andrew made landfall, the Miami Herald ran the front-page headline “WE NEED HELP” and the paper was soon filled with Pulitzer Prize-winning stories decrying the slow and inadequate response by the federal government.

“The deficiencies of Bush 41 and his administration may actually rest on my own efforts,” said Mr. Card, noting that he was the first high-level administration official to assess the devastation in person.

The president did not arrive on the scene until several days after the storm had passed — and well after people were complaining about FEMA’s slow response.

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who would defeat the first President Bush two months later, also visited the state and eventually led an overhaul of FEMA.

“Out of that experience came a chance for real reform in FEMA,” Mr. Card said.

Joe Allbaugh, who was the head of FEMA for the first two years of the current President Bush’s term and his chief of staff when he was governor of Texas, said Andrew gave FEMA and Mr. Bush’s father “a very black eye.”

“We saw the result, which was total chaos,” Mr. Allbaugh said. “It was a time when FEMA didn’t have the resources and personnel it has now.”

But the president learned from his days as governor, when he responded to 25 disasters in six years, Mr. Allbaugh said.

“I’m not sure that responding appropriately and in the way constituents expect you to respond gets you any brownie points,” Mr. Allbaugh said. “But if you screw it up, you will pay the price.”

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