After marking the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Sunday – the event which briefly made him one of the most popular US presidents ever – Bush was to travel to Louisiana and Mississippi and return to the White House on Monday.
Domestic political issues, the war in Iraq, and what critics say was Washington’s too-little, too-late response to Katrina have sent his approval ratings to their worst levels since he took office in January 2001.
A poll by Newsweek magazine found that just 38% approve of his job performance, while 52% of respondents no longer trust him to make the right decisions in a foreign or domestic crisis, versus 45% who do.
Louisiana officials have asked Dick
A separate poll by Time magazine suggested that 61% of Americans thought the government should cut its spending in Iraq to help pay for the reconstruction of hurricane-shattered New Orleans and the surrounding area.
The White House declined to provide details of Bush’s trip but the Hattiesburg American newspaper in Mississippi said he would spend Sunday night on board the USS Iwo Jima near New Orleans and visit Gulfport, Mississippi, on Monday.
After a sluggish initial reaction to Katrina, Bush has taken aggressive steps to portray himself as concerned and in charge, visiting the area twice and sending top aides – including Vice-President Dick Cheney – to the region.
And Homeland Security Michael Chertoff last week removed Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) chief Mike Brown – accused of incompetence and padding his resume – and put Vice-Admiral Thad Allen from the US Coast Guard in charge.
Toll much lower
Recovery officials, meanwhile, said they would have a better idea of how many New Orleans residents were killed in the next three days, but the toll was likely to be much lower than the 10,000 predicted, the top military commander in the recovery effort said on Sunday.
“I would suspect that [the initial toll estimate of 10,000] would be somewhat lower than that – as a matter of fact, a heck of a lot lower than that”
“I would suspect that number would be somewhat lower than that – as a matter of fact, a heck of a lot lower than that,” Lieutenant-General Russel Honore told CNN’s Late Edition.
“That’s a number we’ll be very happy to be wrong about,” Honore said. The 10,000 figure came out “at a very emotional time, with not a lot of facts”, he said, refusing to give another estimate.
Louisiana lashes out
In the state of Louisiana, officials accused the US emergency management agency of dragging its feet in getting hundreds of thousands of survivors into temporary housing.
The storm-battered state urgently wants to get its citizens out of refugee shelters and into longer-term accommodation until they are able to return home, but Fema is not moving fast enough, a senior state disaster chief said.
“We have raised this issue now for days. We do not feel this process is working fast enough”
“We have real concerns right now with the assistance we are getting from Fema on temporary housing,” Colonel Jeff Smith, deputy director of emergency planning for Louisiana’s department of homeland security and emergency preparedness.
“We have raised this issue now for days. We do not feel this process is working fast enough,” he said in Louisiana’s capital Baton Rouge, in an unusually direct attack on the embattled agency by a state.
“We feel like there needs to be trailers rolling and things happening that are not happening as quickly as they should at this point,” Smith said, adding that state officials had complained of the problem to Cheney when he visited Baton Rouge last week.
Also on Sunday, Hurricane Ophelia was sitting off the coast of the Carolinas, a meteorologist said and it was a waiting game to see where, and if, the storm would hit land.
Rescue and recovery efforts are
“This one is sitting still,” said meteorologist Gil Wagi at the National Weather Service bureau in Newport, North Carolina.
The hurricane’s top sustained wind decreased from 137kph earlier in the day to 129 kph at 11am (1500 GMT).
A hurricane watch remained in effect from just north of Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to North Carolina’s Cape Lookout, a stretch of more than 400km.
Although there was a chance Ophelia could remain at sea, most computer models bring the hurricane close to the Carolinas late on Tuesday or early Wednesday, said Daniel Brown, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
North Carolina governor Mike Easley declared a state of emergency as the storm’s meandering track shifted northward.
But the storm was not close enough to make a decision on whether to order evacuations, said Eddie King, Pender County emergency management director.