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Wednesday, September 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bush pledges probe, billions

The Washington Post

DEATH TOLLS reported by state officials from Hurricane Katrina as of yesterday. The total is expected to reach the thousands.

Louisiana

Deaths: 83

Mississippi

Deaths: 196

Alabama

Deaths: 2

Florida

Deaths: 11

Georgia

Deaths: 2

Total: 294

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Stung by criticism of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush yesterday promised to investigate his administration's emergency management and readied a request for tens of billions of dollars in additional relief and cleanup funds.

Official Washington spent yesterday wrestling with a hurricane-recovery effort that, according to some estimates, will cost more than $100 billion and impact a range of federal policy, from emergency response to coastal development, from expanded domestic oil exploration to the future of the estate tax.

Bush vowed to "find out what went right and what went wrong." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the military has begun a "lessons-learned" assessment of its coordination with state and local governments. Key senators pushed for legislative changes that would allow Third World relief efforts to be emulated in the United States.

Just days after Congress approved a $10.5 billion emergency relief package, Bush told congressional leaders of a request of up to $40 billion, making Katrina already the federal government's most expensive domestic emergency. The package could be passed today, Senate leadership and White House aides said.

But with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spending more than $500 million a day, lawmakers from both parties said the cost will climb much higher. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested it could exceed $150 billion, with $100 billion for FEMA alone. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the cost will be "well in excess of $100 billion," and few disagreed.

Beyond money, congressional leaders ordered committee chairmen to draft any legislation that could remedy the problems revealed by the hurricane and its aftermath.

"It is fair to say the overall response to this emergency could have and should have been better," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Bush said, "it's very important for us to understand the relationship between the federal government, the state government and the local government when it comes to a major catastrophe. ... We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD [weapons of mass destruction] attack or another major storm."

Bush offered no specifics on his planned investigation.

House Republican leaders suggested Congress begin one comprehensive examination of the disaster response, possibly a joint House-Senate investigation. But Senate committees were moving forward. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold hearings next week to examine the federal disaster response.

James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, promised an examination of Gulf Coast infrastructure, water projects and coastal erosion.

At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said the growing involvement of troops in hurricane relief efforts will not diminish the military's ability to sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He noted that more than 300,000 Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel remain available to help, if needed. He also rejected the suggestion that the commitment of large numbers of troops to the Iraq conflict — including National Guard soldiers from Louisiana and Mississippi — had delayed the military's response. "Anyone who's saying that doesn't understand the situation," he said.

About 41,000 National Guard troops are in the region engaged in emergency assistance operations, according to Pentagon figures

Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the speed of the military's response.

"Not only was there no delay," Myers said. "I think we anticipated in most cases — not in all cases, but in most cases — the support that was required."

Mayor authorizes forced evacuations

As floodwaters slowly receded yesterday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin authorized law-enforcement officers and the U.S. military to force the evacuation of all residents who refuse to heed orders to leave the dark, dangerous city.

Nagin's emergency declaration last night targets those still in the city unless they have been designated by government officials as helping with the relief effort.

The move came after some citizens told authorities who had come to deliver them from the flooded city that they would not leave their homes and property.

Police Capt. Marlon Defillo said last night that forced removal of citizens had not begun.

Grisly recovery

More bodies surfaced and many more are expected in New Orleans. In the Lower Ninth Ward, where the search for bodies and survivors intensified, Bill Moore, an urban search-and-rescue expert, said he saw "a handful of bodies, and I'm a guy who's had minimal time in the water."

"This is a thousand times worse than I expected," said Moore, who has 30 years of experience.

A day after he raised the possibility of 10,000 deaths, Mayor Nagin again spoke in dire terms. "It's going to be awful and it's going to wake the nation up again," he said on NBC's "Today" program.

At least six major fires erupted throughout the city, on both sides of the river, in wealthy neighborhoods and poorer ones. One in the Lower Garden District ate through a city block. In nearby Jefferson Parish, firefighters used the pumps on their fire engines to suck in the floodwaters to use against the fires.

Signs of progress

There were some signs of progress in New Orleans, and Mayor Nagin said he had a sense the city had begun to "turn the corner."

With a major breach in the levee repaired and two main pumping stations back in operation, water poured out of the city; authorities said they had restored order among the few who remained in a city that 10 days ago resounded with 485,000 people.

"The violence that has occurred in the city has subsided completely, and we have complete control of the city," said Warren Riley, deputy chief of New Orleans' police force.

Despite complications, "we have to get the water out of the city or the nightmare will continue," said Louisiana Environmental Secretary Mike McDaniel.

Ex-first lady's remarks

Former first lady Barbara Bush drew attention for remarks she made about hurricane evacuees while visiting the Astrodome Monday.

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality," she said during a radio interview with the American Public Media program "Marketplace." "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

She was with her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Clinton, who are working together on relief efforts.

Material from Knight Ridder Newspapers and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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