President Bush yesterday ordered the deployment of an additional 7,000 troops, including soldiers from the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne and 1st Cavalry Division, into the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast as he worked to increase the pace of the massive rescue and relief effort.
As relief began to reach residents of New Orleans stranded for several days after levees broke and flooded 90 percent of the city, Mr. Bush said, “The enormity of the task requires more resources.”
In addition to the active-duty forces, 10,000 more National Guard troops were being sent to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The number of active-duty and Guard troops is expected to top 50,000 in the next 72 hours.
The Army troops will come from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, while the Marines’ 1st and 2nd Expeditionary forces will be deployed from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The first plane carrying soldiers from the 82nd Airborne arrived in New Orleans yesterday afternoon, said Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge, deputy commander of Northern Command. Soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division will begin arriving within 48 hours.
Active-duty soldiers will not be involved in law enforcement, Gen. Inge said, but will provide a variety of security and humanitarian assistance.
Mr. Bush will make a return trip to the region tomorrow , canceling plans for a Labor Day speech in Maryland in favor of stops in Mississippi and Louisiana.
In addition, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will fly to Louisiana and Mississippi today, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned a trip to Mobile, Ala.
Mr. Bush postponed a meeting scheduled for Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The two leaders plan to meet in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session later this month, the White House said yesterday.
White House aides have arranged for a hurricane briefing to be the first item on the president’s daily agenda for the immediate future.
Mr. Bush met yesterday for nearly an hour with Mr. Rumsfeld, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Gen. Myers and others involved in planning the recovery from Hurricane Katrina before delivering a live version of his weekly Saturday morning radio address from the Rose Garden.
The president said that on his tour of the region Friday, he found stories of personal courage throughout the Gulf Coast.
“In Biloxi, I met Bronwynne Bassier and her sister, Kim. Bronwynne told me that the only earthly possessions she has left were the clothes on her back,” Mr. Bush said. “I also met relief and rescue workers who are performing heroically in difficult circumstances. They’ve been working around the clock, risking their own lives to save the lives of others.”
The response in Washington continued to rachet up as Mr. Chertoff told reporters the federal government would “break the mold” on emergency assistance. He said he was heading to New Orleans to oversee the next phase of relief efforts.
Mr. Chertoff, who accompanied Mr. Bush on Friday, expressed awe at the destruction wrought by a “Mother Nature that has been anything but maternal.”
He and a number of Mr. Bush’s other top advisers met yesterday with black leaders amid accusations that indifference to black suffering slowed the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and past president of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he thinks the administration was partly interested in offering assurances that any missteps in getting relief to the victims — many of them black — would be corrected.
“I think a lot of people in the African-American community — and others, by the way — share Bush’s view that the results of his efforts have been unacceptable,” Mr. Cummings said after the meeting at the White House.
“I think they wanted to make sure that the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the NAACP knew that they were very sensitive to trying to make sure that things went right from here on out,” he said. “And I think they wanted to try to dispel any kind of notions that the administration did not care about African-American people — or anyone else.”
On another front, the National Institutes of Health is setting up a telemedicine and triage facility that will be linked to NIH and medical centers across the country.
“This consultation will focus on the sickest of the sick,” Surgeon General Richard Carmona said.
He said 100 critical-care beds were being cleared at NIH for those most in need, and that 1,000 prescriptions a day were being filled from the national strategic medicine stockpile.
And the Labor Department announced a $62 million emergency grant yesterday to provide as many as 1,000 jobs to dislocated workers in the parts of Louisiana devastated by Katrina. The funding also will support projects that provide food, clothing, shelter and other assistance.