Thursday, September 01, 2005

Biggest relief plan since 9/11 ordered

President Bush yesterday ordered America's largest emergency effort since September 11, 2001, deploying Navy ships and Army helicopters to states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and activating a new national response plan. But Mr. Bush warned that it will "take years" for the Gulf Coast region to recover from the Category 4 hurricane that officials say may have killed thousands. "We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history," Mr. Bush said in the White House Rose Garden, after flying over the storm-struck region in Air Force One. "The vast majority of New Orleans, Louisiana, is under water. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are beyond repair. A lot of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been completely destroyed," he said. "This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years." The White House declared the hurricane an "incident of national significance," triggering a national emergency plan,completed in January, that was designed after the terrorist attacks in 2001. As part of the plan, the Pentagon yesterday dispatched warships, including two helicopter assault vessels and elite SEAL water-rescue teams, as well as the hospital ship USNS Comfort, to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The Comfort left from Baltimore while the USS Iwo Jima, a helicopter assault ship, departed from Norfolk. The ships, and several others, will arrive in five days, the Navy said. Also yesterday, Mr. Bush warned that the devastation in the Gulf Coast, with refineries that produce about a third of all U.S. gasoline, likely will have a nationwide effect. "Our citizens must understand this storm has disrupted the capacity to make gasoline and to distribute gasoline," he said. He announced that his administration would release oil supplies from the 700-million-barrel federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Meanwhile, congressional leaders promised to move an assistance package for the victims of Katrina as soon as possible....


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