President George W. Bush denied Monday there was any racial component to people being left behind after Hurricane Katrina, despite suggestions from some critics that the response would have been quicker if so many of the victims hadn't been poor and black.
"The storm didn't discriminate and neither will the recovery effort," Bush said. "The rescue efforts were comprehensive. The recovery will be comprehensive."
Bush made the remarks to reporters at the end of a tour that took him through several flooded New Orleans neighborhoods. Occasionally, Bush had to duck to avoid low-hanging electrical wires and branches.
It was Bush's first exposure to the on-the-ground leadership of his new hurricane relief chief. The federal response to the disaster has been roundly criticized as sluggish and inept.
Bush rejected suggestions that the U.S. military was stretched too thinly with the war in Iraq to deal with the Gulf Coast devastation. "We've got plenty of troops to do both," the president said. "It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there weren't enough troops."
"We're moving on, we're going to solve these problems," he said.
Bush also clarified his now-criticized remark that no one had anticipated the levees being breached. He said he was referring to that "sense of relaxation in a critical moment" when many people initially thought the storm had not inflicted heavy damage on the city.
Amid the ongoing rescue and recovery effort, Bush said, "We're beginning to think through how to reconstitute this really important state and city."
Bush, on a two-day visit to hurricane-affected areas, started the day with a briefing on the federal response effort aboard the 844-foot USS Iwo Jima, a command center for military operations. The slideshow presentation, which covered the latest relief and recovery efforts in three states, was conducted in the ship's ward room by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, who replaced embattled FEMA Director Michael Brown as federal hurricane commander last Friday.