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Thursday, September 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Damage to homes 4 times that of Andrew: Red Cross

BILOXI, Miss. — Hurricane Katrina damaged or demolished nearly 500,000 homes in three states, the American Red Cross said yesterday — four times as many as Hurricane Andrew did when it hit South Florida in 1992.

The Red Cross' attempt to quantify wreckage in Katrina's aftermath found a swath of destruction that extended 150 miles inland, with entire neighborhoods flattened and flooded. Mississippi suffered damage to as many as one in every five homes.

Altogether, more than 240,000 homes in Louisiana, another 240,000 in Mississippi and 1,700 in Alabama were hit in some way, the Red Cross said. Hurricane Andrew, until now the costliest storm in U.S. history, damaged about 125,000 homes.

The six Mississippi counties closest to the coast sustained the most widespread destruction, with one in every three houses wrecked or wiped out. More than 80 percent suffered damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency cautioned that Red Cross estimates are sometimes high, but said the federal assessment won't be done until all homeowners' claims are filed and evaluated.

FEDERAL RESPONSE

9/11 panel chairmen criticize effort

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration should have realized that Hurricane Katrina was a catastrophe of national proportions and mobilized federal troops and equipment before the storm struck, the co-chairmen of an independent investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks said yesterday.

"Anyone watching that storm knew it was going to affect Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana," said Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "This is not a disaster for the mayor of New Orleans to deal with."

"It was a disappointing response," said Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey.

Kean and Hamilton said they didn't understand why Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waited until about 36 hours after Katrina had struck to declare an "incident of national significance," triggering a massive federal response.

"It was obvious nobody knew who was in charge," Kean said. "There was no unified command structure ... the mayor is saying one thing, the governor says another."

CLEANUP RUN AMOK?

Contractors fell trees that survived storm

GULFPORT, Miss. — In the final indignity for one Mississippi town, contractors uprooted dozens of oaks that had stared down Katrina and survived. An entire three-mile stretch along U.S. 90 was stripped bare.

The state Transportation Department, which hired the contractors to clear fallen trees and limbs, blamed an apparent "lack of communication" for the removal of the healthy oaks.

"Since the storm, I can't think of anything that made me sicker," Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr said. "There's not a tree. Where are they? Do you see a tree?"

The department said it is investigating the mistake.

DEATH TOLL

Hurricane Katrina death tolls reported by state and local officials as of yesterday:

Alabama

2

Florida

14
Georgia
2
Louisiana
474
Mississippi
218
Total
710

ALSO

Port reopens: The Port of New Orleans resumed operations yesterday as the first vessel headed out to sea more than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina closed down shipping.

Strapped schools: The New Orleans public-school system and city government both say they're running out of money and can't pay their employees. Mayor Ray Nagin said the city is trying to secure a line of credit or federal assistance to keep New Orleans operating through year's end. "We don't have any more cash," he said.

Compiled from Knight Ridder Newspapers, The Associated Press and Reuters

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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