Hastert Questions Rebuilding

New Orleans Below Sea Level

It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that is seven feet below sea level, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said of federal assistance for hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

"It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," he said in an interview Wednesday with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.

Hastert, in a transcript supplied by the newspaper, said there is no question that the people of New Orleans will rebuild their city, but he noted that federal insurance and other federal aid are involved. "We ought to take a second look at it. But, you know, we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake fissures, and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness."

Hastert yesterday issued a clarifying statement, saying, "I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated" and that "It is important that when we rebuild this historic city that we consider the safety of the citizens first."

"My comments about rebuildinig the city were intended to reflect my sincere concern with how the city is rebuilt to ensure the future protection of its citizens and not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt," he added.

Hastert announced yesterday that the House, which is at the end of its summer break, will return for an emergency session today to approve about $10 billion in federal aid for hurricane victims.

U.S. Considers Aid Offers

From Two Dozen Countries

In a turnabout, the United States is on the receiving end of help from around the world, as about two dozen countries are offering post-hurricane assistance.

Venezuela, which has a contentious relationship with the Bush administration, offered humanitarian aid and fuel. Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum Corp. pledged $1 million for hurricane aid.

The United Nations informed U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton it is prepared to support the relief effort "in any way possible." Undersecretary General Jan Egeland said his office has offered the services of the United Nations' disaster assistance and coordination teams.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a letter to President Bush offering doctors, nurses, technicians and other experts in trauma, natural disasters and public health.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided "no offer that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the afflicted area will be refused," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

Boats, aircraft, tents, blankets, generators, cash and medical teams have been offered to the U.S. government as part of the recovery effort along the Gulf Coast.

Offers have been received from Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Honduras, Germany, Venezuela, Jamaica, Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, China, South Korea, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, NATO and the Organization of American States.

-- From News Services