In Louisiana 25,000 body bags are now on hold for victims of Hurricane Katrina and last week’s devastating flood. The actual death toll remains unknown but officials saying they are preparing for the worst. A temporary warehouse morgue in rural St. Gabriel that had been prepared to take 1,000 bodies is being readied to handle 5,000. Earlier this week New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin predicted up to 10,000 people died in New Orleans alone. A website set up by the Red Cross lists more than 117,000 names of people who have not been located. The majority of the people on the list are presumed to be alive and displaced to other cities.
In New Orleans the federal government is being accused of trying to censor the images coming out of the devastated city. The Reuters news agency is reporting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is now rejecting requests by journalists to accompany rescue boats searching for storm victims. In addition journalists are being asked not to photograph any dead bodies in the region. Critics of FEMA’s request compared the policy to the Pentagon’s policy that bars reporters from taking photographs of the caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq. NBC News Anchor Brian Williams is reporting that police officers have been seen aiming their weapons at members of the media. And a blogger named Bob Brigham has written a widely read dispatch that the National Guard in Jefferson County are under orders to turn all journalists away. Brigham writes QUIOTE “Bush is now censoring all reporting from New Orleans Louisiana. The First Amendment sank with the city.”
In Washington President Bush sent Congress a request for nearly $52 billion in additional hurricane relief.
The government announced plans to distribute debit cards worth $2,000 to victims of the hurricane.
Republican House and Senate leaders announced a joint investigation into the government’s response to the hurricane. No Democrats attended the press conference announcing the probe. This marks the first joint investigation since the Iran-Contra probe of the 1980s. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada responded to the probe by saying, “An investigation of the Republican administration by a Republican-controlled Congress is like having a pitcher call his own balls and strikes.” Reid also questioned on Tuesday if President Bush’s month-long vacation played a role in the government’s handling of the disaster. President Bush didn’t return to Washington until two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast region.
In other news on Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi assailed the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, who she described as having “absolutely no credentials.” Before joining FEMA Brown spent 11 years as the head of the International Arabian Horse Association. Pelosi said she recently saw President Bush and urged him to fire Brown. She said the president responded to her request by saying “Why would I do that?” When Pelosi said because of all that went wrong last week, she said he replied “What didn’t go right?”
Questions are also being raised as to why the Bush administration chose to appoint a number of other top officials at FEMA who had no experience handling disasters. FEMA’s deputy director and chief of staff Patrick Rhode, was an advance man for the Bush-Cheney campaign and the White House. The agency’s third-highest ranking official, Scott Morris, was a public relations expert who worked for a Texas company that produced TV and radio spots for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
In other FEMA news, the Salt Lake City Tribune is reporting that last week — while New Orleans was desperately calling for help, FEMA sent 1,000 firefighters to Atlanta for an all-day class on topics such as community relations and sexual harassment. Instead of being sent to New Orleans, the firefighters were being trained to be community relations officers for FEMA. Their main job — once they got to the Gulf Coast — was to disseminate FEMA fliers Some firefighters went to the press and complained that they were being underutilized. FEMA lashed out at those firefighters who spoke out. FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said “I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country.
Federal medical authorities have announced that at least five people have died from a disease related to Hurricane Katrina. They died from a bacteria that can enter the body through open wounds after a slog through polluted water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting more people will die from coming in contact with contaminated flood water.
And in an update on a story we covered on Democracy Now yesterday. Local county officials in Houston Texas are blocking plans for a low power FM radio station to be set up at the Astrodome to service hurricane survivors. The project had already been OK’d by the Federal Communications Commission.
In other news, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced he plans to veto a state bill to legalize same sex marriage.
In iraq, at least 16 people died in a car bombing in the southern city of Basra.
Also in Iraq, U.S. forces have freed Roy Hallums, a 57-year-old U.S. contractor who had been held captive for 10 months.
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