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. Damning Report Says Katrina Response A National Failure

The Congress report stated "At every level -- individual, corporate, philanthropic and governmental -- we failed to meet the challenge that was Katrina."
by Stephanie Griffith
Washington (AFP) Feb 13, 2006
A Congress report accused the US administration of leading a "national failure" over the Hurricane Katrina disaster, forcing authorities to announce a major reorganisation of the Homeland Security Department on Monday.

Leading officials failed to act on warnings before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding region last August and then did not make the proper response to the disaster, said House of Representative lawmakers in excerpts of their damning report to be released in full on Wednesday.

"In many respects, our report is a litany of mistakes, misjudgments, lapses and absurdities all cascading together, blinding us to what was coming and hobbling any collective effort to respond," said the lawmakers.

"Our investigation revealed that Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare," they added.

"At every level -- individual, corporate, philanthropic and governmental -- we failed to meet the challenge that was Katrina."

According to media reports, the full 600 page report will criticise the administration from President George W. Bush downwards.

Opposition Democrats are already calling for resignations. Bush took responsibility for the failed response in the outcry that followed the hurricane which flattened much of the US Gulf Coast, killing about 1,300 people.

The US government has spent tens of billions of dollars on aid and reconstruction efforts following the disaster.

Pre-empting the report, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff unveiled a major overhaul of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is tasked with responding to domestic catastrophes.

He said FEMA would upgrade its alert procedure, add several hundred staff and improve its infrastructure and information technology systems, to allow it to respond more quickly to catastrophes.

Speaking to a conference Monday for emergency management officials near Washington, Chertoff defended the Katrina response while assuming "responsibility" for errors.

"As the president said, the results of our response to Katrina were unacceptable," he said.

"As the secretary of homeland security, I am accountable and I accept responsibility for the performance of the entire department," he said.

While conceding that the Department of Homeland Security sees itself as focused on terrorism, Chertoff said that responding to natural disasters was also part of its mission.

"I unequivocally and strongly reject this attempt to drive a wedge between our concerns about terrorism and our concerns about natural disasters," he said.

The report outlines similar government shortcomings as those exposed after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda on New York and Washington.

Last week Michael Brown, who quit as head of FEMA after Katrina struck, blamed the department's terrorism orientation for the poor response to the hurricane.

Brown told a congressional hearing that FEMA was regarded in the department as an unwanted "step-child".

House Democrats, who were largely shut out of formal participation in the Katrina investigation, have called for Chertoff's resignation. They have also demanded that the White House release documents on its handling of the disaster.

Two Louisiana Democrats, Representatives Charlie Melancon and William Jefferson, who informally participated in the inquiry, also called this week for an independent commission fashioned after the official September 11 inquiry.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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US Hands Over Kashmir Relief Equipment To Pakistan
Muzaffarabad, Pakistan (AFP) Feb 13, 2006
The US military handed over equipment worth 2.5 million dollars to the Pakistan army as it wound up its biggest ever external relief operation for the survivors of last year's devastating Kashmir earthquake.

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