Bush pledges probe into hurricane response

President George Bush and Congress today pledged separate investigations into the widely criticised federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

President George Bush and Congress today pledged separate investigations into the widely criticised federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

The pledge came as Senate Democrats suggested they may seek $50bn (€40bn) as the next instalment for relief and recovery.

“Bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people,” Bush said after meeting at the White House with his Cabinet on storm recovery efforts.

“Government at all levels failed,” Republican Sen Susan Collins said at the Capitol. She announced that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee would hold hearings, adding: ”It is difficult to understand the lack of preparedness and the ineffective initial response to a disaster that had been predicted for years, and for which specific, dire warnings had been given for days.”

Stung by criticism, Bush called congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting, their first since the hurricane spread death and destruction on a fearsome scope along the Gulf Coast and left much of New Orleans under deep floodwaters.

Congress returned from a five-week summer break during the day, signalling that the hurricane would take top billing on the agenda in the coming weeks.

The response “needs to be first and foremost,” said Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Congress approved $10.5bn (€8.4bn) as a downpayment for hurricane relief last week, and Senate Democrats were consulting among themselves in advance of the White House meeting.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was possible Democrats would request as much as $50bn (€40bn) as a next instalment.

Rebecca Kirszner, an aide to Democratic Leader Harry Reid, said that “from what we know right now the relief efforts could reach or exceed $150bn (€120bn), money targeted largely to health care, housing assistance and education.”

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