Correction to This Article
A Sept. 12 article misspelled the name of the amphibious assault ship serving as a command center for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. It is the USS Iwo Jima, not the Iowa Jima.

President Makes His 3rd Visit to Gulf Coast

By Michael A. Fletcher and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 12, 2005

President Bush arrived in flood-ravaged New Orleans last evening amid continued criticism of his administration's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, but as officials reported tentative progress in the mammoth recovery effort.

Bush was scheduled to spend the night on the USS Iowa Jima, an amphibious assault ship that is the recovery command center. He plans today to tour the devastated city and neighboring parishes, to be briefed by rescuers and to meet with local officials before traveling to Gulfport, Miss., to review relief efforts there.

Bush's third visit to the devastated region in nine days comes as he is struggling to assert his leadership after a calamity that has spawned bitter exchanges between local and federal officials. Meanwhile, Bush's approval ratings have tumbled to new lows.

In the hours before Bush's arrival in New Orleans, Louisiana's Democratic senator alleged that the administration seeks to blame others for its mistakes.

"While the president is saying he wants to work together as a team, I think the White House operatives have a full-court press on to blame state and local officials, whether they're Republicans or Democrats," Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"We've tried to work together with state and local officials," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other administration officials have defended the federal response, and have emphasized shortcomings in evacuation and emergency procedures by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D).

Blanco defended her state at Houston's Reliant Center, where many evacuees were sent to shelter, saying: Louisiana had a "well-thought-out exit plan. . . . We did a massive evacuation, and if we hadn't, we would have had thousands of deaths. Right now, the numbers are minimal when you consider the amount of damage."

She refused to blame Bush for the slow federal response: "Help in those critical moments was slow in coming, not through any fault of the president."

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Nagin said that Bush "for some reason probably did not understand the full magnitude of this catastrophe on the front end."

Nagin also repeated his sharp criticism of the performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He joined members of both parties in praising the administration for its decision Friday to remove FEMA chief Michael D. Brown from Katrina oversight responsibilities.

In Biloxi, Miss., local officials said FEMA has yet to set up a disaster relief center, leaving storm-shocked residents with little access to federal help.

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