Pentagon: No delay in getting aid to storm victims
ARLINGTON, Va. — Amid growing criticism that Hurricane Katrina relief efforts moved too slowly, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chief of Staff Richard B. Myers said Tuesday that there was no delay in getting aid to victims.
Asked why it took days to get National Guard troops moving to the area hit by the hurricane, Rumsfeld replied, “It didn’t.”
The Defense Department began pre-positioning assets in the area before the storm hit, he said.
“Not only was there no delay, I think we anticipated in most cases — not in all cases, but in most cases, the support that was required,” Myers said.
But lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, have ripped the federal relief effort as disorganized and inadequate.
“Once the immediate crisis is addressed, there will be many serious questions to answer about the speed and quality of the federal government’s response to this horrific disaster. As the President himself has said, the results of the recovery effort are not acceptable,” Hagel said in a statement Tuesday.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that under the current system the first responders are state and local officials who can be rendered “incapable of functioning” by conditions on the ground.
Still, Myers said the National Guard response to the disaster was “very quick.”
“We can never be perfect in a tragedy like this,” Myers said.
Rumsfeld and Myers were asked why authorities did not airdrop more food to hurricane victims stranded at the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center.
Rumsfeld said aircraft had to be flown out of the area before the hurricane hit and then had to bring them back.
He noted that one Air National Guard unit equipped with eight helicopters had flown about 800 missions in five days, rescuing more than 6,000 people.
Helicopters on scene were focused primarily on saving lives; getting food and other provisions to people in need came second, Myers said.
Last week, a Louisiana state official said authorities had decided against massive airdrops out of fear that they might cause riots.
Also Tuesday, Rumsfeld was asked if deployments in Iraq were hindering hurricane relief efforts.
“That’s flat-out wrong,” he said. “Anyone who is saying that doesn’t understand the situation.”