Bush concerned about Hurricane Rita as he returns to Gulf Coast
NEW ORLEANS – President Bush kept a worried watch Tuesday on “what we pray is not a devastating storm” – Hurricane Rita – as he flew over miles of flattened homes and mud-caked neighborhoods hit by Hurricane Katrina.Bush received a briefing about Rita aboard the USS Iwo Jima, which is docked near downtown New Orleans, as the hurricane lashed the Florida Keys and caused new anxiety among Katrina victims in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.In a ship mess hall, the president held a videoconference with three federal officials: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the National Hurricane Center’s deputy director, Ed Rappaport, and a Federal Emergency Management Agency official.The officials said Rita was projected to strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane that would hit the upper to middle part of the Texas coast by the weekend and could create tropical storm conditions – or, much less likely, hurricane-force winds – in southeastern Louisiana.”We’re watching very closely, of course, its track,” Bush said later at a Folgers coffee plant in Louisiana that recently restarted operations. “All up and down the coastline people are now preparing for what is anticipated to be yet another significant storm.”Eager to show hands-on leadership after being criticized for a slow response to Katrina, Bush signed an emergency declaration for Florida, spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry about planning for the storm’s landfall, and said military outfits are being removed from New Orleans to be out of Rita’s path and ready to help with recovery.The White House said Bush had named Frances Fragos Townsend, his in-house homeland security adviser, to lead an administration investigation of “what went wrong and what went right” in the sluggish federal response to Katrina. The appointment of Townsend, a former federal prosecutor with a reputation as a tough adversary, is unlikely to satisfy Democrats on Capitol Hill who are demanding a fully independent investigation.Bush said he was pleased that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin suspended his plan to allow as many as a third of the city’s residents to return. He said positive steps are being taken.”What you’re beginning to see is a revitalized economy,” Bush said, standing before 110 trailers set up for Folgers employees who lost their homes. “Progress is being made.”Bush began the day in Gulfport, Miss., where he dropped in on the first meeting of Gov. Haley Barbour’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, applauding their “can-do spirit” and pledging to help clean up the devastated Gulf Coast. He flew along the coast over mile after mile of destroyed homes.”There is no doubt in my mind that out of the rubble and out of the huge heaps of timber that used to be homes, a better Mississippi will emerge,” Bush told the local government and business leaders gathered in an air-conditioned tent set up in a hurricane-damaged outlet shopping center.The president told them he had heard their complaints about bureaucratic hurdles for trash removal, saying he was personally making calls to cut through red tape and people in the area will soon see results.”There was a level of frustration, as there should have been,” he said. “We’ll get the debris removed.”Barbour told Bush that local officials need the federal government’s help to rebuild the area’s infrastructure and make Mississippi’s hurricane zone “the most attractive place in America for private investment.””I’m confident that we’ll get the resources because y’all have been so generous and good to us. But we want you to know that we’re going to try to help you know what to give us,” Barbour said to laughter.Jim Barksdale, chairman of Barbour’s commission, told the president and other attendees that they only have themselves to blame if reconstruction isn’t successful. “You folks are like the pig at a ham and egg breakfast,” he said. “You are committed.”White House press secretary Scott McClellan acknowledged that some of Mississippi’s more rural areas still are waiting for federal help that has been focused in New Orleans and other larger population centers.Vail, Colorado
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