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Bush: US Ready to Cope with New Hurricane Season


With another hurricane season rapidly approaching, President Bush is assuring residents of America's Gulf Coast that the government will be ready to help should a killer storm strike once again. This, as the Senate ponders an overhaul of the agency responsible for coordinating emergency services.

The president returned to the Gulf Coast Thursday for the eleventh time since Hurricane Katrina struck last August.

Everywhere, there were stark reminders of the damage done by the storm: empty neighborhoods, piles of rubble, and homes so badly scarred they remain uninhabitable.

There has been progress over the last eight months. But the devastation is so vast, even the president acknowledges it will take time, millions of dollars, and an army of volunteers to make things right.

In New Orleans, Louisiana thousands of people are already helping out. The president's visit was to call attention to their efforts, and urge others to join in.

"For those of you who are volunteering, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making our society a better place," said Mr. Bush.

The president had two goals on this trip: to salute the volunteers and to reassure the people in the region that the federal government will be ready for this hurricane season.

"Pray there is no hurricane this coming year, but we are working together to make sure if there is one, the response will be as efficient as possible," added Mr. Bush.

A new Senate report on the faulty government response to Hurricane Katrina calls for scrapping the federal agency that handles domestic disasters and replacing it with a new entity.

Republican Susan Collins of Maine chairs the Senate Committee that drafted the report. She says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must be abolished.

"FEMA is discredited, demoralized, and dysfunctional. It is beyond repair," she said.

But White House officials say now is not the time to be talking about a massive overhaul of the government's emergency preparedness structure. While President Bush was helping carpenters at a home site in New Orleans, his Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, talked to reporters nearby.

"I don't think it is productive to talk about dismantling the agency," she said.

She added that FEMA is being strengthened and has a new leadership team in place. She said the goal is to reform the agency so it is prepared to help the American people at their hour of greatest need. And while she acknowledged much more remains to be done before the official start of hurricane season on June 1, she said preparations are far ahead of where they were at this point last year.

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