World News

FEMA sees U.S. more prepared for Gustav than Katrina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. emergency management agency, harshly criticized for its failures in handling Hurricane Katrina three years ago, said on Saturday it was better prepared for Hurricane Gustav.

Instead of waiting for Gustav to make landfall as it did with Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already started evacuating residents of New Orleans and has the necessary buses and personnel mobilized in the danger zone.

State, federal, and local governments are working together better than in 2005, FEMA head David Paulison said.

“We’ve changed the culture of this organization,” he told a news conference.

After Hurricane Katrina killed 1,500 people along the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration was widely criticized for its slow response and then-FEMA director Michael Brown was forced to resign.

This time, FEMA said it had hundreds of buses and some chartered aircraft in New Orleans. It has already evacuated around 1,000 people to Memphis.

The agency will also provide emergency shelter, including mobile homes and apartments, to people displaced by the storm.

“We don’t want to end up like we did with Katrina, putting people in those travel trailers,” Paulison said. “That was not a good place to live for that period of time.”

Louisiana has placed 1,500 National Guard troops in New Orleans to preserve law and order, which fell apart in 2005.

Gustav, now near Cuba, may have equal or greater strength than Katrina by the time it hits the Gulf coast next week.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Alan Elsner