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Bush to visit Gulf Coast again amid ongoing criticism

BATON ROUGE, La.—President Bush visits the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast for the third time on Monday, where he's expected to face more harsh words about the federal government's response to the disaster.

A top emergency official in Louisiana lodged a new complaint Sunday, saying the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been slow to provide temporary housing to evacuees living in shelters.

"We have raised the issue for days," said Col. Jeff Smith, deputy director of the state's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. "We do not feel that process is moving fast enough. We just feel like there should be trailers rolling and things happening."

Two weeks after Katrina struck, he said, more than 58,000 people are still living in Louisiana shelters. Smith blamed bureaucratic backlogs and said his agency had appealed to FEMA and even Vice President Dick Cheney to bring in trailers and help find apartments for evacuees, without results.

Federal relief coordinator Vice Adm. Thad Allen responded that housing is a top priority, but a tricky problem to resolve.

"There's not going to be a perfect way to do it," Allen said on "Fox News Sunday," "but certainly we feel like there needs to be some temporary housing that improves the situation they're in now."

On Sunday talk shows, Democratic leaders savaged both the Bush administration's initial response to the storm and its attempt to deflect criticism.

"While the president is saying that he wants to work together as a team, I think the White House operatives have a full-court press on to blame state and local officials, whether they're Republicans or Democrats," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told CBS' "Face the Nation."

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius responded that "it's not the time for blame. It's the time for helping the people on the ground that have been severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina."

The president left Washington Sunday after Sept. 11 remembrances to spend the night on the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship docked in New Orleans' harbor. He'll tour Gulfport, Miss., on Monday.

On the second Sunday after the storm, victims again filled churches to pray, grieve and hear messages of hope. At Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Biloxi, Miss., worshippers hugged and wept when asked to offer each other signs of peace.

Many of Katrina's victims have displayed symptoms of post-traumatic syndrome, said the Rev. Joe Dilettuso, who has been doing double duty as a counselor for the Veterans Administration.

"We found one man sitting where his house used to be," Dilettuso said, "surrounded by debris, threatening to kill himself."

FEMA said it planned to begin airborne spraying for mosquitoes and flies in New Orleans on Monday, to try to prevent the spread of disease. Five hospitals in the city are now fully functional, officials said.

Several sections of New Orleans, as well as neighboring Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, had dried enough by Sunday to become passable to cars, allowing the hard job of cleanup to begin.

Along Bayou St. John, near the site of the city's famed annual Jazzfest, work crews cleared trees from the main streets, most of which were covered with a thin film of dried mud.

Soldiers outside Jackson Barracks, a home of the Louisiana National Guard, manned a checkpoint into St. Bernard Parish while wearing masks over their mouths and noses. Dust swirled constantly.

Pumps continued working to clear the floodwaters. About 40 percent of New Orleans is now inundated, down from 80 percent a week ago.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport will reopen for commercial traffic Tuesday, after nearly two weeks serving as a hub for humanitarian relief flights and a gateway for 10,000 evacuees a day to leave the city.

Business will be slow at first, said Roy Williams, the airport's aviation director, with about 30 daily arrivals and departures Tuesday—down from 174 daily before the storm. By November, the airport hopes to be up to 70 daily flights.

In Charlotte, N.C., some of the city's displaced residents even had something to cheer about.

The NFL's Carolina Panthers gave nearly 350 of the evacuees staying in the Charlotte Coliseum tickets to the season opener between the Panthers and the New Orleans Saints. Among the fans: Maria Ponjuan of New Orleans, who has been living at the coliseum with her family of five for nearly a week.

They don't know what happened to their home, but at least three of their neighbors died.

"This is a very good way to get it off your mind for a moment," Ponjuan said.

The Saints took the field to some initial boos from the Carolina crowd, which were soon overcome by sustained cheers for the team from the battered city.

Some pundits picked the Panthers to win the Super Bowl this year, but with the game broadcast to shelters all over the country, the Saints pulled off a 23-20 victory with a last-minute field goal. There were seven seconds left in the game.


(Tsai, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, reported from Baton Rouge; Adams, of the Knight Ridder Washington bureau, reported from New Orleans; Dodd, of The Charlotte Observer, reported from Washington. Also contributing were Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Ken Garfield of The Charlotte Observer and Gary Dotson of the Belleville News-Democrat.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-KATRINA

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