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Saturday, September 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mayor feeling a little more calm

NEW ORLEANS — The cursing had stopped. The tears were gone. Mayor Ray Nagin returned from his meeting with President Bush a picture of calm, leaning back against a railing in a hotel lobby that for the first time in nearly five days was devoid of stranded, sweating and generally miserable tourists.

"I feel much better. I feel like we've gotten everyone's attention and hopefully they'll continue to do what they're doing," Nagin said last night in the storm-damaged Hyatt hotel, where his temporary lodgings and command post have been set up this week since Hurricane Katrina made life in the Big Easy insufferable.

"I'm cautiously optimistic. I want to see it happen [today]. I want to see it happen next week. Then, when I see consistency of delivery, I'll feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel."

His comments came a day after he was heard on a radio interview erupting in tears and telling the government to "get off your asses and let's do something." By nightfall yesterday, his tone had changed.

"Today was a turning point, I think," he said. "My philosophy is never get too high, never get too low. ... I always try to keep my emotions in check and yesterday I kind of went off a little bit. I was worried about that, but it maybe worked out. I don't know. If the CIA slips me something and next week you don't see me, you'll all know what happened."

Nagin said Bush gave him a "hearty" greeting and did not seem at all offended by Nagin's earlier outburst.

"I do think the pleas for help basically got the nation's attention, and the nation's attention got everybody to stop and re-evaluate what was going on, including the president. ... He basically said, 'Look, our response was not what it should have been and we're going to fix it right now.' "

Nagin said the evacuation has been hampered by officials' difficulty grasping where state authority ends and federal authority begins, and he said he frankly urged Bush and Gov. Kathleen Blanco to establish a clear chain of command immediately.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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