Too slow to react. That is the charge most levelled at George Bush and his government. Since the scale of the disaster became clear, the President has been engaged in a series of damage limitation exercise to maintain his image of a strong and effective leader. During a visit to Washington’s relief coordination centre he said: “The world saw this tidal wave of disasters sent upon the Gulf Coast, and we can see a tidal wave of compassion.”
The US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, has also been mobilised and dispatched into the disaster zone. Hailing originally from Alabama, she is probably best placed among the White House heavyweights to answer accusations that the plight of Afro-Americans in New Orleans is being ignored. Most of the victims in the low-lying city are Black, and the overwhelming majority are poor. Without means to escape when the severe weather warnings were given, they had little choice but to stay put and sit out the storm.
During a television appeal last night US rap star, Kanye West, blamed the media for portraying black people negatively: “If u see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food.” The President visited the flood-stricken areas himself last Friday, nearly a week after the waters rushed into New Orleans. He acknowledged there was frustration at the pace of relief efforts but refused claims it was because US resources are over-employed in Iraq.
Bush said: “I completely disagree. We’ve got a job to defend this country and the war on terror and we’re gonna do them both.” But his opinion is not shared by the majority of the public, especially among the people now living in appalling conditions. One refugee said: “We have such a great country, we can fight in Vietnam and Iraq but can’t even take care of one big storm.”: More than a million people were evacuated from New Orleans before the hurricane struck. But the country’s inability to protect its most vulnerable has severely affected its view of itself as a superpower.