A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26.
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Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting
In a Washington briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said one reason federal assets were not used more quickly was "because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor."
Chertoff planned to fly overnight to the New Orleans area to take charge of deploying the expanded federal and military assets for several days, he said. He said he has "full confidence" in FEMA Director Michael D. Brown, the DHS undersecretary and federal officer in charge of the Katrina response.
Brown, a frequent target of New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin's wrath, said Saturday that "the mayor can order an evacuation and try to evacuate the city, but if the mayor does not have the resources to get the poor, elderly, the disabled, those who cannot, out, or if he does not even have police capacity to enforce the mandatory evacuation, to make people leave, then you end up with the kind of situation we have right now in New Orleans."
New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas acknowledged that the city was surprised by the number of refugees left behind, but he said FEMA should have been prepared to assist.
"Everybody shares the blame here," said Thomas. "But when you talk about the mightiest government in the world, that's a ludicrous and lame excuse. You're FEMA, and you're the big dog. And you weren't prepared either."
In Baton Rouge, Blanco acknowledged Saturday: "We did not have enough resources here to do it all. . . . The magnitude is overwhelming."
State officials had planned to turn to neighboring states for help with troops, transportation and equipment in a major hurricane. But in Katrina's case, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida were also overwhelmed, said Denise Bottcher, a Blanco spokesman.
Bush canceled a visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao that had been scheduled for Wednesday and made plans to return to the Gulf Coast on Monday. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice scheduled visits to the region, as troops continue to pour in.
Top Bush administration officials met at the White House with African American leaders amid criticism that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina has neglected impoverished victims, many of them black.
Chertoff, Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, White House domestic policy adviser Claude Allen and Pentagon homeland security official Peter Verga met for two hours with NAACP President Bruce Gordon, National Urban League President Marc H. Morial and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus's current chairman, Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), participated by phone.
"I think they wanted to make sure that the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the NAACP knew that they were very sensitive to trying to make sure that things went right from here on out," Cummings said, according to his spokeswoman, Devika Koppikar. "And I think they wanted to try to dispel any kind of notions that the administration did not care about African American people -- or anyone else."
Caucus Executive Director Paul A. Brathwaite said Bush officials promised to keep black leaders informed. He credited the administration with reaching out to the caucus for the first time to solve a national problem.