Washington -- In the wake of massive
destruction, death and homelessness across four states caused
by Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government has launched one
of the largest domestic response mobilizations in U.S. history.
President George W. Bush speaks to reporters after meeting with former presidents Bush and Clinton, who will lead a major fundraising effort to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of massive destruction, death and homelessness across four states, the U.S. government has launched one of the largest domestic response mobilizations in U.S. history.
Nearly every federal agency has people,
equipment and supplies on the ground in Louisiana, Mississippi,
Florida and Alabama, working with state and local officials
and offering food, water, shelter, medical care and supplies,
as well as help with power lines and infrastructure.
President Bush has declared major disasters
for affected areas in the four states, Secretary of Homeland
Security Michael Chertoff said August 31.
“Along with these declarations,”
he added, “the full range of federal resources and
capabilities is being directed, as we speak, to assist and
protect those citizens who have borne the brunt of this
During his August 31 flight back to Washington
from his ranch in Texas, President Bush asked the pilot
to fly over the affected Gulf Coast region.
“The vast majority of New Orleans,
Louisiana is under water,” he said during a press
briefing later that day in Washington. “Tens of thousands
of homes and businesses are beyond repair. A lot of the
Mississippi Gulf Coast has been completely destroyed. Mobile
[Alabama] is flooded,” he added.
“We are dealing,” Bush said,
“with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's
More than a dozen foreign governments have
offered to help in the Gulf Coast area search-and-reconstruction
efforts, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said
during an August 31 press briefing.
“These are general offers of assistance
at this point,” McCormack added. “We appreciate
each and every one of them and we are going to work in the
coming days and weeks with foreign governments to see how
we can best channel these offers of assistance.”
Countries that have offered assistance include
Canada, France, Honduras, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom,
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said during
a September 1 press briefing. Many more countries have offered
assistance, and many have offered condolences, he said.
The U.S. State Department is assisting foreign
missions in locating their citizens who might have been
in the affected areas. (See related
President Bush directed Secretary of Homeland
Security Michael Chertoff to chair a Cabinet-level task
force to coordinate assistance from Washington, and Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Mike Brown is
in charge of federal response and recovery efforts in the
And the president has asked two former presidents,
George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, to lead a nationwide
fundraising effort to help the hurricane's victims. He said
the two leaders "will ask Americans to open their hearts
and their wallets to help those in need."
Recovery efforts are focused on three priorities,
Bush said – saving lives; sustaining lives with food,
water, shelter and medical care; and executing a comprehensive
“This recovery will take a long time,”
he said, “This recovery will take years.”
Federal agencies are helping local officials
in New Orleans evacuate everyone still in the flooded city.
For 25,000 residents who had taken shelter in the city’s
Superdome sports arena, the city of Houston, 350 miles away,
offered shelter in its Astrodome, where they may stay until
The Superdome’s roof, damaged by Katrina,
is leaking. There is no air conditioning and not much electricity,
and toilets are backing up.
FEMA provided 500 buses to transport people
to the Astrodome, a six-hour drive away. Evacuees began
arriving at the 40-year-old former sports complex in the
early morning hours of September 1.
The agency has deployed 39 disaster medical
assistance teams from all across the United States to staging
areas in Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana to provide emergency
The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting search-and-rescue
missions, working alongside local officials with local assets.
It has also activated three national strike teams (units
skilled in specialized salvage and pollution control) to
help remove hazardous material.
The Coast Guard has rescued nearly 2,000
people since the hurricane struck, Bush said, and its ships
and boats continue to support the national relief effort.
The Defense Department is sending the USS
Bataan, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship, to conduct
search-and-rescue missions. The ship has hospital facilities
to care for up to 600 patients, including six fully equipped
medical operating rooms.
Defense is also sending eight swift-water
rescue teams, the three-ship Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness
Group to help with disaster-response equipment, and the
USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, to help provide medical care.
The National Guard has nearly 11,000 guardsmen
on state active duty to help governors and local officials
with security and disaster-response efforts.
FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are
working around the clock with Louisiana officials to repair
breaches in New Orleans' levees and ease the city’s
FEMA is moving supplies and equipment into
the hardest-hit areas, Bush said. Supplies include truckloads
of water, ice, meals, medical supplies, generators, tents
and tarpaulins. More than 1,700 trailer trucks have been
mobilized to move the supplies into position.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has
provided more than 400 trucks to move 1,000 truckloads containing
5.4 million ready-to-eat meals, 13.4 million liters of water,
10,400 tarpaulins, 1.5 million kilograms of ice, 144 generators,
20 containers of disaster supplies, 135,000 blankets and
More than 78,000 people are in shelters,
Bush said. The departments of Housing and Urban Development,
Agriculture, and Health and Human Services (HHS) are working
with local communities to help those who have lost their
HHS and the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention are working with local officials to identify
operating hospital facilities so that the federal government
can help provide necessary medical care. They are also distributing
medical supplies and executing a public health plan to control
disease and other health-related issues.
“This afternoon I've declared a public
health emergency for the entire Gulf region,” said
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt August
31. “That will have the effect of dramatically simplifying
and accelerating the procedures necessary to expedite emergency
CDC and the Food and Drug Administration
are assembling public health teams to focus on chemical
and toxicology matters and sanitation and food safety.
“We are gravely concerned about the
potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases
that could come as a result of the stagnant water and the
conditions,” Leavitt said. “We're concerned
about mosquito abatement. And our teams will be focused
to assist local officials on those points.”
THE RECOVERY EFFORT
Bush said government agencies are focusing
on restoring power and communication lines in the three
states truly devastated by the storm -- Alabama, Louisiana
The Energy Department has deployed personnel
and is working with local power companies and local and
state authorities to help get electricity working. It is
also helping to ensure the repair and continuity of oil
and gas pipelines that may have been affected by power outages.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced
August 31 that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will be used
to help fulfill demand for oil. Refineries that are short
on supplies of crude oil will have access to supplies from
the reserve to help avert a disruption in the supply of
gasoline to drivers and businesses across the country.
“We'll be repairing major roads and
bridges and other essential means of transportation as quickly
as possible,” he said. “Repairing the infrastructure,
of course, is going to be a key priority.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has
issued temporary waivers to make alternative supplies of
gasoline and diesel fuel available in areas of the country
with shortages of the specific fuel blends required under
the Clean Air Act.
“This will help take some pressure
off of gas prices,” Bush said. “But our citizens
must understand this storm has disrupted the capacity to
make and distribute gasoline.”
The response for displaced citizens will
include housing, education, health care and other essential
“I've directed the folks in my Cabinet
to work with local officials to develop a comprehensive
strategy to rebuild the communities affected,” the
DOT is working to restore at least minimal
transportation infrastructure in the region, said Secretary
Norman Mineta, “and that includes highways, airports,
seaports and oil pipelines.”
In addition, the department has deployed
teams from its Federal Aviation Administration, Federal
Highway Administration, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials
Safety Administration to the region.
The teams are working closely with Louisiana,
Mississippi and Alabama state officials to clear roads and
inspect bridges, establish communications, increase operations
at major airports, and move generators to pipeline pumping
stations to restore the flow of petroleum products to the
southeast United States.
“The folks on the Gulf Coast are going
to need the help of this country for a long time,”
President Bush said. “This is going to be a difficult
road. The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented.
But there's no doubt in my mind we're going to succeed.”
Washington File Staff Writer