- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

President Bush, making his third trip to Gulf Coast states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, yesterday rejected charges that the federal government’s emergency response was slow because most of the victims were black.

“The storm didn’t discriminate, and neither will the recovery effort,” the president told reporters after touring some of the hardest-hit areas in New Orleans.

“When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn’t check the color of a person’s skin. They wanted to save lives,” he said. “The rescue efforts were comprehensive, and the recovery will be comprehensive.”

Mr. Bush replied angrily to another reporter who asked whether he felt let down by federal officials’ response to the disaster.

“Look, there will be plenty of time to play the blame game,” he said in New Orleans. “That’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to say somebody is at fault. And, look, I want to know. I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on, and we’ll continually assess inside my administration.”

Asked whether the federal government needed broader authority to “come in earlier or even in advance of a storm,” Mr. Bush said, “I think that’s one of the interesting issues that Congress needs to take a look at.”

The president began his day early yesterday after staying overnight on the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima. He toured New Orleans for 45 minutes in an open truck for his first close look at the city’s flooded neighborhoods, ducking low-hanging branches and electrical wires as his motorcade zigzagged around fallen trees.

Escorted by Humvees, Mr. Bush stood in the truck bed flanked by a grim-looking New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.

The president stopped and talked with residents along the way, chatting at one point with shrimp boat worker Ricky Robin, who told the president how his crew rescued 300 people after the hurricane.

The president ended his two-day stay near Gulfport, Miss., stopping at a relief distribution center run by Christ in Action.

“Good to see you,” the president said softly to volunteers and storm victims he greeted at long tables where food and supplies such as water, diapers and toilet paper were being distributed.

During a brief session with reporters in New Orleans, Mr. Bush said there was an initial impression after Katrina made landfall that the city had escaped heavy damage “and I myself thought we had dodged a bullet.” It was only after the hurricane was well onto land that the levee broke and flooded New Orleans.

The president reacted testily to a question about whether the federal response to the emergency was hindered by a lack of National Guard units, some of which have been deployed in Iraq.

“Let me just talk about that again. I’ve answered this question before,” he said. “It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there wasn’t enough troops here, just pure and simple. … We’ve got plenty of troops to do both.”

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