U.S. President George W. Bush is urging Congress to approve a massive reconstruction program for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and promising that the federal government will review the disaster plans of every major American city.
The government failed to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina, Bush said Thursday night from storm-damaged New Orleans as he laid out plans for one of the largest reconstruction projects ever. The federal government's costs could reach US$200 billion (Ђ164 billion) or beyond, the AP says.
The president, who has been dogged by criticism that Washington's response to the hurricane was slow and inadequate, said the nation has "every right to expect" more effective federal action in a time of emergency such as Katrina, which killed hundreds of people across five states, forced major evacuations and caused untold property damage.
Disaster planning must be a "national security priority," he said, while ordering the Homeland Security Department to undertake an immediate review of emergency plans in every major American city.
"Our cities must have clear and up-to-date plans for responding to natural disasters and disease outbreaks or a terrorist attack, for evacuating large numbers of people in an emergency and for providing the food and water and security they would need," Bush said.
He acknowledged that government agencies lacked coordination and were overwhelmed by Katrina and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans. He said a disaster on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces. He ordered all Cabinet secretaries to join in a comprehensive review of the government's faulty response.