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McClellan Misleads on “Early” Disaster Declaration

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"McClellan Misleads on “Early” Disaster Declaration"

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To deflect criticism of its preparation for Hurricane Katrina, the White House is now pointing to the fact that President Bush declared a disaster area in southern Louisiana last Tuesday as evidence of early preparations. Here’s Scott McClellan from today’s press briefing:

In terms of the hurricane itself, remember we took a number of steps prior to the hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast region. The president issued disaster declarations for the states in the region prior to the hurricane hitting shore. That enabled FEMA to fully mobilize all the resources needed to preposition assets.

The Bush administration should not be bragging about last Tuesday’s disaster declaration. As Newsweek reported this morning, it had nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina:

Just one week ago the White House declared that a major disaster existed in Louisiana, specifically most of the areas (such as Jefferson Parish) that are now under water. Was the White House psychic about the disaster ahead? Not exactly. In fact the major disaster referred to Tropical Storm Cindy, which struck the state a full seven weeks earlier. That announcement triggered federal aid for the stricken areas, where the clean-up had been on hold for almost two months while the White House chewed things over.

An Associated Press report from last week confirms Newsweek’s version of the story:

President Bush declared parts of the state hit by Tropical Storm Cindy a disaster Tuesday, paving the way for five south Louisiana parishes to seek federal funds to help with repairs.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco had requested the presidential disaster declaration to get federal help for the $5.4 million cost of cleaning up from Tropical Storm Cindy.

Tellingly, Hurricane Katrina isn’t mentioned in the AP piece.

UPDATE: McClellan’s statement was incorrect. Bush did not issue “disaster declarations” for the region in anticipation of Katrina. Bush did, however, issue an “emergency declaration” for the area on Saturday.

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