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Bush sends marines as flood fury grows
Bush sends marines as flood fury grows
· 20,000 still trapped in burning city
· We let citizens down, admits President
Julian Borger and Jamie Doward in Baton Rouge
Sunday September 4, 2005
President George Bush ordered an extra 17,000 troops - including 7,000 elite airborne troops and marines - into New Orleans and the devastated Gulf Coast yesterday to try to bolster the stumbling flood relief effort and salvage the reputation of his presidency.
The order was announced after it became clear that National Guard troops sent into the city on Friday were no match for the scale of the disaster unleashed by Hurricane Katrina and the consequent collapse of the levees around the city. Within two days the number of military personnel in the area is hoped to reach some 54,000 people.
As a full-scale rescue operation finally got under way and thousands of victims of the storm were ferried from the city by bus, plane and truck, the US military announced it would be deploying a further 10,000 National Guards.
The latest moves come as rescuers continued to find bodies across the city, and as victims of the disaster continued to die amid the horrible conditions. Although there has been no official estimate of the number of dead, some fear it could top 10,000 in Louisiana alone.
Despite the increase in the rescue efforts, 5,000 people were still stranded in the Superdome stadium yesterday, although it had been promised they would be evacuated by Friday night.
Meanwhile, another 20,000 people seem condemned to spend at least another night in the city convention centre, where they had spent most of the week with minimal food and water and no sanitation or medical care.
Relief workers were confronted with a new face to the catastrophe, as up to 60 fires blazed in the city. The worst engulfed the warehouse district on the waterfront, where firefighters were unable to operate due to the lack of running water.
In his weekly radio address, Bush acknowledged the shortcomings of the relief effort. 'Many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable,' he said. 'In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part. Where our response is not working, we'll make it right. Where our response is working, we will duplicate it.
'We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters all along the Gulf Coast, and we will not rest until we get this right and the job is done.'
The first plane carrying fresh soldiers was due to arrive in New Orleans yesterday afternoon, said Lieutenant-General Joseph Inge, deputy commander of Northern Command. Soldiers from the 1st brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division would begin arriving within 48 hours.
National Guard soldiers arrived on Friday night to provide evacuees with their first hot meal since Katrina struck. Since then more than 25,000 residents have been evacuated, claimed Mike Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is facing severe criticism for its response to what it now describes as the 'worst catastrophe in living memory'. Brown admitted that the number of people left in the city and the death toll remained unknown because people were still turning up at evacuation sites and dead bodies were still being counted. Brig Gen Mark Graham added: 'There are people in apartments and hotels that you didn't know were there.'
Thousands more people were reported to be in limbo on a motorway, waiting for buses that failed to come because there was no plan for housing the victims elsewhere
Bush said the new troops would include elite combat units such as the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Last night the Pentagon announced an extra 10,000 National Guard troops would be sent, raising the number of Guard personnel in the stricken states up to about 40,000. The National Guard - militias under the command of state governors -are frequently used to deal with civilian crises but it is unheard of for regular troops to be deployed at home.
The deployments will put further strain on an army already stretched by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was announced yesterday that 300 airmen deployed on both fronts would be brought home because their base near Biloxi in Mississippi had been devastated by the hurricane and many of their families had been moved to shelters.
Louisiana's Republican governor, Kathleen Blanco, also appealed to Bush to bring home a Louisiana National Guard unit, the 256th Brigade Combat Team, which is serving in Iraq. 'They are urgently needed back home. We have never needed them so much,' she said.
Bush also signed a $10.5 billion emergency aid package for the stricken area. But he is struggling to restore his personal credibility after liberals and conservatives joined forces to criticise the federal relief effort.
Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a Republican, said the federal response had been 'an abject failure'. Attacks on the Bush administration's tardy reaction to the disaster also came from unexpected quarters in the media; even conservative commentators on the usually loyal Fox News channel lambasted the President's performance.