Militares controlan rescate en Nueva Orleans

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen will replace Michael Brown, the embattled FEMA director, as the on-site head of hurricane relief operations in the Gulf Coast, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced at a news conference in Baton Rouge Friday afternoon.
Brown will head back to Washington from Louisiana to oversee the big picture, the official said. (Full Story)
Allen has been acting as an assistant to Brown in the Gulf region.
.Although the search for bodies amid the Hurricane Katrina wreckage is only at an initial stage, a top official overseeing the efforts said Friday the results offer hope for a death toll lower than some of the most dire suggestions.
«I think there’s some encouragement in what we found in the initial sweeps that some of the catastrophic death that some people predicted may not in fact have occurred,» said Terry Ebbert, New Orleans’ homeland security chief, at a news conference.
«The numbers so far are relatively minor as compared to the dire predictions of 10,000,» he said.
Bush to revisit disaster area
Also Friday, the White House said President Bush will return to Mississippi and Louisiana on Sunday.
Bush will stay overnight in Louisiana before returning to Washington on Monday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The president is facing blistering criticism for his administration’s handling of the disaster.
Bush first traveled to the region on last Friday, four days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and spread destruction along a huge swath of the Gulf Coast.
He returned to the region on Monday for another one-day trip.
During a speech at the State Department on Friday, the president said «America is a strong and resilient nation. Our people have the spirit, the resources and the determination to overcome any challenge.» (Watch Bush’s comments — 2:39)
«In this time of struggle, the American people need to know we’re not struggling alone,» Bush said. «I want to thank the world community for its prayers and for the offers of assistance that have come from all around the world.»
The announcement of the visits come as Time magazine published an article questioning the qualifications of Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown. (Full Story)
The Washington Post also reported in its Friday editions that many of the top FEMA directors lacked emergency management experience and had close ties to Bush’s 2000 election efforts.
Bush signs $51.8 billion aid bill
President Bush on Thursday night signed a $51.8 billion emergency spending bill after promising survivors of Hurricane Katrina earlier in the day that the federal government «is going to be with you for the long haul.»
The aid bill easily passed both houses of Congress on Thursday.
The House passed its version of the bill earlier Thursday by a vote of 410-11. The 11 representatives who voted against it were Republicans.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, one of the Republicans who voted against the bill, said he was concerned the bill lacked accountability.
«While the people of New Orleans and other affected areas clearly need help, I am not convinced that this legislation will provide it,» said Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Earlier Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, questioned FEMA’s ability to spend the money properly and suggested that a public authority similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority be created for rebuilding efforts.
«After everything that has happened with FEMA, is there anyone who believes that we should continue to let the money go to FEMA and be distributed by them?» Reid asked.
Bush Thursday night praised Congress for moving swiftly «in strong bipartisan fashion to approve these additional emergency funds.»
Action on the aid appropriation came one day after the leaders of the House and Senate announced that a bipartisan joint congressional committee will review the response, at all levels of government, to the hurricane.
Congress passed a $10.5 billion relief bill last week. The $51.8 billion first sought by the Bush administration Wednesday covers five weeks and amounts to roughly $1.4 billion a day.
The White House budget chief said «substantially more» money likely will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Wednesday that the need for federal disaster aid could top $150 billion.
Hurricane victims to receive immediate aid
In an address aimed at the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by the August 29 storm, Bush outlined plans to distribute $2,000 in federal aid to every affected household for immediate needs and to supply them with long-term assistance in the months ahead.
He also promised to reimburse states for the costs associated with taking in people forced out of their homes by the hurricane, telling state leaders, «You should not be penalized for showing compassion.» (Full Story)
Families can register by contacting Federal Emergency Management Agency or Red Cross teams at emergency shelters, by calling (800) 621-FEMA or by visiting www.fema.gov, Bush said.
The president also called for a national day of prayer.
«I ask that we pray, as Americans have always prayed in times of trial, with confidence in his purpose, with hope for a brighter future and with the humility to ask God to keep us strong, so we can better serve our brothers and sisters in need,» he said.
Landrieu blasts federal response
On Capitol Hill Thursday, Louisiana’s senior senator, Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, blasted the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, calling it «incompetent and insulting» to the people of her state.
«The record for rebuilding will be staggering, but it will pale in comparison to the staggering incompetence of this national government,» Landrieu said in a speech on the Senate floor.
She also said it was unfair to fault local and state officials for what many have described as an inadequate response to the storm.
She also faulted Bush for failing to recognize the severity of the situation when the levees broke, noting that public service announcements featuring the Mr. Bill clay animation character have been warning about such a scenario for two years.
«We know the president said ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the break of the levee.’ Everybody anticipated the break of the levee, Mr. President,» she said. «How can it be that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?»
Joint panel announced
On Wednesday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, announced that a bipartisan joint congressional committee will review initial local, state and federal government response to Katrina. (Full story.)
Democrats criticized the Republican leadership for not consulting with them before announcing the panel and whether the panel can conduct an unbiased investigation. They would prefer a commission styled after the independent commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Hastert and Frist said in a written statement that the committee would report its findings to Congress no later than February 15 next year.
Critics argue the federal government took too long to mobilize aid, causing thousands of storm victims to languish for days without food, water and other necessities.
The size of the panel has not been announced, and there is no word on when the hearings will begin. However, GOP leaders have said they don’t want to pull officials out of the disaster area to testify.
Aides to House and Senate leaders told CNN the committee will have subpoena power, and standing House and Senate committees can use the investigative findings to craft legislation for reforms.
CNN’s Jeanne Meserve and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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