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Chertoff rejects Katrina criticism

Feb. 15, 2006 at 1:27 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Wednesday rejected congressional criticism he was "disengaged" from an impending Hurricane Katrina.

Suggestions that Homeland Security and President George Bush approached the disaster in a detached way "is simply not correct in my view and in my recollection of what happened," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate Homeland Security panel, CNN reported. "We were acutely aware of Katrina and the risk it posed."

Chertoff said the worst criticism involved the notion that people had "their suffering unnecessarily prolonged because this department did not perform as well" as it could have.

The Aug. 29 storm killed 1,322 people, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi, and caused floods that left tens of thousands homeless.

A House Republican report criticizes Chertoff for waiting two days after the storm hit to activate a national response plan and for appointing Michael Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to lead the federal response.

Brown resigned after his competence was questioned.

The House report -- CNN obtained an advance copy -- said the government response to Katrina at all levels was "dismal," and showed that more than four years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, "America is still not ready for prime time."

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