Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 7 News List

White House report calls for disaster relief changes

AFP , WASHINGTON

A White House report on Thursday demanded urgent changes to disaster relief plans before this year's storm season, as US President George W. Bush pledged to learn lessons from the Hurricane Katrina debacle.

The report probed failures exposed when Katrina roared ashore last August, devastated the US Gulf Coast, whipped up a floodtide that swamped New Orleans and sparked a political firestorm over the government's response.

Conclusions included a new call for federal troops to get more involved in disaster relief efforts, and diagnosed leadership failures in national, state and local governments.

Publication coincided with the administration still weathering attacks over its handling of the crisis, which tore at fault lines in federal, state and local levels of government and killed more than 1,300 people.

It also appeared days after a congressional review accused the White House of failing to heed warnings and acting too slowly when disaster struck.

"We will learn from the lessons of the past to better protect the American people," Bush told reporters, brandishing a copy of the report finished in a red, white and blue livery.

"We have made a strong commitment to the people in the Gulf Coast and we will honor that commitment as well."

The report, "The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned", describes the storm as "the most destructive natural disaster in US history", worse than catastrophes such as the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

"The magnitude of Hurricane Katrina does not excuse our inadequate preparedness and response, but rather it must serve as a catalyst for far-reaching reform and transformation," the report said.

Emergency preparations at all levels of government "were put to the test and came up short," the White House said in a fact sheet accompanying the report.

"Changes must be made immediately to prepare for the 2006 hurricane season. The 2006 hurricane season is just over three months away."

The review also called for the better use of the US military, which due to constitutional restrictions on the use of federal forces in law enforcement operations had its hands tied in the aftermath of Katrina.

"When state and local responders are overwhelmed and incapacitated it may be that our military is the last resort," the president's homeland security adviser Frances Townsend told reporters.

The White House review was published days after a congressional report strongly criticised the administration for failing to heed warnings before the hurricane and for responding too slowly afterwards.

It also came after Michael Brown, former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, blamed Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff for much of the botched response to Katrina.

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