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FEMA Director Replaced as Hurricane Response Continues


It has been exactly two weeks since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along America's Gulf coast, and in that time the Bush administration's reaction to the storm has been criticized by some as too slow. That has driven down the president's popularity ratings, and forced the resignation of his director of federal emergency operations. Mr. Bush recently made a third trip to the ravaged area. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on that, and the political fallout for the president.

Supportive of FEMA's initial response to the handling of Katrina Hurricane President Bush said "... and I want to say ... Brownie ... you're doing a heck of a job."

President Bush probably now wishes he had never uttered those words of praise for Michael Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA, as it is known, is the organization charged with recovery efforts in the wake of natural or manmade disasters.

While FEMA's Director Michael Brown was submitting his resignation Monday in Washington. Mr. Bush was on his third tour of Louisiana and Mississippi, and insisting to reporters that now is not the time to place blame. "There will be ample time for people to take a look back and see the facts."

Meanwhile the American public has been watching television coverage of stranded residents in flooded New Orleans and many have said they didn't like what they were seeing.

Several polls have found a dramatic shift downward in Mr. Bush's approval ratings in the storm's aftermath and there has been criticism the initial response of local, state and federal agencies was not quick enough.

The president's revisit to New Orleans was the first time he has actually been on the ground in the historic city since the hurricane.

During a tour of the French Quarter and other parts of the downtown area, Mr. Bush reacted to charges that racism was to blame for lagging efforts to evacuate the poor. "When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin. They wanted to save lives. I can assure people, and I know from the state and local level as well, that this recovery is going to be comprehensive. The rescue efforts were comprehensive. The recovery will be comprehensive."

And there are already signs of recovery in parts of New Orleans. Trash collection has resumed in places, and businesses that had been shut down are beginning to reopen.

A used tire shop has been flourishing since the day after the storm. Its owner, Joe Peters, says his shop has been repairing 20 to 30 tires a day: "Shortly after the storm left, an officer came in here with a flat and I fixed it. I've been fixing them ever since."

Fifty percent of the city of New Orleans is still flooded. Soldiers are still going door to door in neighborhoods, checking to see if anyone is still at home. Despite an earlier evacuation order, Army Sergeant Paul Harrell says no one will be forced to leave. "We're not forcibly evacuating anyone here who's not a threat or conducting criminal activities. We're just letting them stay in their home and noting where they are so we can give them further assistance at later times."

While President Bush was on the road in Mississippi, announcement of a replacement for the embattled FEMA director Michael Brown was being made in Washington.

As the death toll continues to rise, and many of those evacuated wait for permission to return home, it is certain Mr. Brown's successor, David Paulison, will have his work cut out for him.

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