Knight Ridder: Feds So Far Have ‘Bungled’ Help After Hurricane

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By: E&P Staff

“The federal government so far has bungled the job of quickly helping the multitudes of hungry, thirsty and desperate victims of Hurricane Katrina, former top federal, state and local disaster chiefs said Wednesday,” an article by Knight Ridder’s Seth Borenstein declared today.

Knight Ridder’s newspaper in Biloxi, Miss., the Sun Herald, published an editorial on Wednesday blasting relief efforts in that area and lack of National Guard help.

Today’s KR report continues:

“The experts, including a former Bush administration disaster response manager, told Knight Ridder that the government wasn’t prepared, scrimped on storm spending and shifted its attention from dealing with natural disasters to fighting the global war on terrorism.

“The disaster preparedness agency at the center of the relief effort is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was enveloped by the new Department of Homeland Security with a new mission aimed at responding to the attacks of al-Qaida.

“‘What you’re seeing is revealing weaknesses in the state, local and federal levels,’ said Eric Tolbert, who until February was FEMA’s disaster response chief. ‘All three levels have been weakened. They’ve been weakened by diversion into terrorism.’

“In interviews on Wednesday, several men and women who’ve led relief efforts for dozens of killer hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes over the years chastised current disaster leaders for forgetting the simple Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

“Bush administration officials said they’re proud of their efforts. Their first efforts emphasized rooftop rescues over providing food and water for already safe victims.

“‘We are extremely pleased with the response of every element of the federal government (and) all of our federal partners have made to this terrible tragedy,’ Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said during a news conference Wednesday in Washington.

“The agency has more than 1,700 truckloads of water, meals, tents, generators and other supplies ready to go in, Chertoff said. Federal health officials have started setting up at least 40 medical shelters. The Coast Guard reports rescuing more than 1,200 people.

“But residents, especially in Biloxi, Miss., said they aren’t seeing the promised help, and Knight Ridder reporters along the Gulf Coast said they saw little visible federal relief efforts, other than search-and-rescue teams. Some help started arriving Wednesday by the truckloads, but not everywhere.

“‘We’re not getting any help yet,’ said Biloxi Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Boney. ‘We need water. We need ice. I’ve been told it’s coming, but we’ve got people in shelters who haven’t had a drink since the storm.'”

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