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Rice regrets shoe shopping amid Katrina disaster: book
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 23, 2011

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice regrets having gone shoe-shopping and out for a night at the theater while Hurricane Katrina ravaged the US Gulf coast, she wrote in excerpts of her memoir released Sunday.

In "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington," which arrives in bookstores next week, Rice, the top US diplomat during president George W. Bush's second term, writes ruefully that she later came to understand it was a major political misstep during one of the most violent and costly storms ever to hit US shores.

"I didn't think much about the dire warnings of an approaching hurricane called Katrina," she wrote in an excerpt of the book published on the Politico.com website, saying that she had flown to New York for a brief holiday in late August 2005.

Rice wrote that she called then-Secretary of Homeland Security Mike Chertoff as the storm advanced, inquiring if there was any way she could help, and was told that "he'd call if he needed me.

"I hung up, got dressed, and went to see 'Spamalot'" she said, referring to a hit Broadway play.

"The next morning, I went shopping at the Ferragamo shoe store down the block from my hotel," she wrote.

When it became clear that Katrina was even more severe than feared, Rice said she called the president to say that she was returning to the US capital.

"The airwaves were filled with devastating pictures from New Orleans. And the faces of most of the people in distress were black. I knew right away that I should never have left Washington," she wrote, sensing a brewing public relations disaster both for her and for the president.

Sure enough, she wrote, minutes after the phone call, a senior aide showed her the headline of an article posted on a political website.

"Eyewitness: Sec of State Condi Rice laughs it up at 'Spamalot' while Gulf Coast lays in tatters," it read.

Rice added that she "sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf. I wasn't just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the president. What had I been thinking?" she writes in the book.

"In retrospect, the hurricane's aftermath was the first in a spiral of negative events that would almost engulf the Bush presidency," she writes in the memoir, which is due to be published by Crown Books on November 1.

"There were many missteps, both in perception and in reality. I'm still mad at myself for only belatedly understanding my own role and responsibilities in the crisis."

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