Bush Requests Billions for Katrina Relief
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush spent yesterday in a series of meetings regarding the crisis in the Gulf Coast region. As refugees struggled through another day and as the city of New Orleans coped with looting and other lawlessness, the White House was forced to defend its level of preparedness for both the hurricane and its aftermath. The president sent to Congress a request for $10 1/2 billion of emergency relief money. The Senate approved the measure and the House takes it up today. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA reporting:
The White House was consumed by the relief effort yesterday, dealing with a crisis that seemed to grow larger by the hour, all the while assuring the nation that a massive relief effort had swung into high gear. Yesterday afternoon, the president spoke from the Oval Office, where he was joined by two former presidents, his father and Bill Clinton, who have been enlisted to help raise private funds to help relief organizations. The president said that the first priority is to save lives.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: There are over 80 FEMA teams that have been deployed to the Gulf Coast to conduct search-and-rescue missions. I want to thank those who are working long hours for their dedication to saving lives. We got Coast Guard folks and Navy and Army and Air Force and National Guardsmen from many different states that are delivering needed supplies and providing the rescue missions, trying to reach those in danger.
GONYEA: All the while the criticism of the White House began to build, coming from the devastated Gulf Coast region and in newspaper editorials around the country. There were complaints that food, water and other supplies dispatched to the disaster were not getting to those in need quickly enough and that more should have been done to prepare for the fierce storm well before it slammed ashore. White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that the administration had done a great deal in advance of the storm and that everything that can be done is being done.
Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesman): I can understand people who have not received the help they need being frustrated at this point. It's going to take time to get help to some people. We've got to prioritize what the needs are. That's exactly what the federal government is doing.
GONYEA: After meeting with his team of economic advisers at the White House, the president spoke of the sudden spike in already high gasoline prices. He said it's a temporary situation because of the refineries that were shut down by the storm. Meanwhile, in the US Senate last night, by a voice vote, a small crew of leaders approved the president's request for $10 1/2 billion in emergency cash. Senate Leader Bill Frist.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): We are committed to providing all of the relief and support necessary to get through this terrible and ongoing crisis.
GONYEA: Still, the White House stresses that recovering from Katrina will take not weeks or months, but years. The president yesterday spoke to those in the hard-hit areas, asking for something that's also in very short supply, patience.
Pres. BUSH: I can assure them that the thoughts and prayers of the entire nation are with them and their loved ones. I'm also confident that, when it's all said and done, the efforts to rebuild the great city of New Orleans and to rebuild those communities in Mississippi and to help the folks in Alabama will make this nation a stronger place.
GONYEA: Later this morning the president will tour the hurricane damage in person, both by helicopter and on the ground.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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