Republicans criticise Bush over response to Katrina

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The Bush administration is under siege for its handling of Hurricane Katrina. A scathing report into its "dismal" response has been released by a Republican panel, while withering criticisms have been levelled at the Homeland Security chief in the Senate.

The 520-page Republican report blasted officials at all levels for failing to react either quickly or aggressively enough to the calamity that left some 1,300 people dead on the US Gulf Coast.

Appearing at a Senate hearing into the disaster, Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary, rejected the suggestion from some senators that he and the President had been "disengaged" before and after Katrina struck.

Just days earlier, Michael Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told hearings he had repeatedly warned Homeland Security and the White House on Monday 29 August, the day the storm struck, that levees were giving way. The administration has said it was not aware of the problem until the next day.

Mr Chertoff vigorously defended the administration's response. "The idea that this department and this administration and the President were somehow detached from Katrina is simply not correct," he said.

But the Republican report accused Homeland Security of having a "blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision-making" that "needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina's horrors".

"Passivity did the most damage," the report said. It was especially critical of the apparent failure of the federal government sufficiently to heed predictions of the storm's strength before it hit and to mobilise sufficient rescue teams.

Mr Chertoff was repeatedly asked why, on the day after the storm, he went to a meeting on avian flu in Atlanta. He said that, when he went to bed on Monday, it was "my beliefthe storm had not done the worst that had been imagined". Senator Joseph Lieberman asked: "How could you go to bed... not knowing what was going on in New Orleans?"