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Senate Panel Probes Slow Government Response to Hurricane


A U.S. Senate committee is investigating the slow response to Hurricane Katrina by state and federal officials.

The U.S. Congress opened its fall session Tuesday by focusing on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as angry lawmakers demanded to know why the government did not do more to respond to victims.

Speaking to reporters, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat - noting that journalists made it to the scene of the hurricane immediately - wanted to know why emergency response officials did not.

"The press could get in there, bring in their television trucks and everything else," said Patrick Leahy. "You understand better than I do what the logistics are in doing that. Why the hell couldn't a truckload of water, a truckload of medicine, a busload of physicians, people who could bring help, care, and hope to the people, why couldn't they get through?"

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, wants to know why, too. She announced that her panel has begun a probe into the federal and state response to the hurricane.

"It is difficult to understand the lack of preparedness, and the ineffective initial response to a disaster that had been predicted for years, and for which specific dire warnings had been predicted for days," said Susan Collins. "Katrina was a disaster that scientists, and emergency management officials and political leaders had anticipated for years. Yet the initial response was woefully inadequate."

The committee will hold its first public hearing into the matter next week.

Hurricane Katrina is estimated to have killed thousands of people, forced the evacuation of tens of thousands more, and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Issues relating to the aftermath of the hurricane, including helping the victims, storm clean-up, and rebuilding, are topping Congress' agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist:

"The response to Katrina, right now, because it is an ongoing catastrophe, an ongoing natural disaster, needs to be first and foremost," said Bill Frist.

Cabinet officials Tuesday briefed lawmakers about the federal government's response to Katrina.

Last week, members of the House and Senate interrupted their recess to return to Washington briefly to approve President Bush's request for $10.5 billion in disaster relief. Congress is expected to approve additional money in the coming months.

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