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Progress in Hurricane Relief Efforts


Rescue and recovery efforts continue round the clock in hurricane-stricken areas along the U.S. Gulf Coast. More than a week after Hurricane Katrina cut a path of death and destruction through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, officials say there are now signs of progress in restoring at least some of the infrastructure that will be needed to make the worst devastated zones livable again. There are also signs that officials in charge have put aside their differences and are working more closely together.

For much of the past week local officials in and around the flooded city of New Orleans have been chastising the federal government for being too slow in response to the crisis. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has refused to turn over control of her state's National Guard to federal control and has named a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to run state relief efforts. James Lee Witt ran the U.S. agency in the Clinton administration.

But when President Bush visited Louisiana Monday, the governor was polite, if not warm, in her reception, and at a news conference later in the day she made a point of saying that state and federal officials are now working closely together.

"We are partners in this effort. We are a team," Governor Blanco says. "I want to say it again, we are team, we are a powerful team, because we have everything it takes now to make this work like a finely oiled machine. We can make it happen and we are going to do it better than anybody expects us to do it and we are going to do it faster than anybody expects us to do it."

Governor Blanco was accompanied by FEMA director Michael Brown, whom she referred to her as her partner. Mr. Brown has come under harsh criticism from the news media and local leaders in Louisiana in recent days. On Monday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper called on the president to fire him and all other top officials at the agency.

In the words of the editorial: "We're angry, Mr. President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry."

Parishes are the political entities called counties elsewhere in the United States.

As the relief effort entered its second week, there were some important achievements. Workers finally closed the gap in the levee on the 17th Street Canal that had allowed water to flow into the city from Lake Ponchartrain. Engineers can now concentrate on getting giant pumps running so that flood waters can be removed from low lying houses and city streets. Electrical power has returned to some areas and thousands of people were allowed back into Jefferson Parish, which is to the west and south of New Orleans. The residents were not allowed to stay, however. Officials say conditions are still dangerous even in partially flooded zones, so the evacuees could only come in to retrieve some belongings, survey the damage at their homes and then leave.

At her news conference, Governor Blanco offered words of encouragement to the hundreds of thousands of Louisianans displaced by the disaster.

"I am deeply proud of the bravery and the resilience of our people," Governor Blanco says. "They have weathered unimaginable suffering and challenges in the past week, but we are not defeated. We are not defeated."

Homeland Security officials say more than 22,800 people have been rescued in this region in the past week. That, they say, is four times the number usually rescued by the Coast Guard all over the country in a year. More than 155,000 people have been evacuated from the New Orleans area and are now living, for the most part, in the 560 shelters that have been established over a several state area. Tens of thousands more got out before the storm and are living with relatives or in hotels, mostly here in Louisiana or the nearby states of Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi.

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