Bush in Louisiana as toll rises and popularity plummets

United States President George Bush was to head back to storm-wracked New Orleans on Thursday as his popularity plumbed new lows and the death toll from Hurricane Katrina rose further.

Bush was to make a prime time speech to spell out long-term plans for rebuilding the three Gulf of Mexico states — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — that were pummelled by the hurricane.

The US president is facing an uphill task to restore his standing, which was sagging before Katrina hit in August 29 but slid dramatically as the public judged the government response to helping the storm victims.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Thursday showed that just 40% of those interviewed approved of his overall performance as president, a record low since he took office in January 2001.

Nearly 60% of those polled said they were unhappy with the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

The disaster’s death toll zoomed past the 700 mark on Wednesday, with the discovery of another 51 corpses in Louisiana, where 474 were killed. Another 218 deaths have been recorded in Mississippi, two in Alabama and 14 in Florida.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin warned in a television interview that more hideous discoveries will come out of the search of abandoned houses.

But on a more optimistic note, Nagin said about 180 000 evacuated residents are expected to return to the flood-stricken city by next week.

”Within the next week or two we should have about 180 000 people back in the city of New Orleans,” Nagin told CNN’s Larry King Live late on Wednesday.

He said electricity and running water should be available in some parts of the city.

About 485 000 people fled before or after Katrina battered the city and floodwaters then devastated much of the jazz capital.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti has pressed negligent homicide charges against two owners of a New Orleans nursing home, where the bodies of 34 people were found.

Another grim find was made on Sunday at a New Orleans hopsital, where 45 corpses were discovered.

While New Orleans made faltering steps toward recovery, Hurricane Ophelia, the seventh of the hurricane season, inflicted floods and power cuts on about 100 000 people in North Carolina on the Atlantic coast.

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley pleaded with the public to heed evacuation warnings, and ordered a state of emergency with dawn to dusk curfews in some towns.

Authorities poured emergency workers into North Carolina following vitriolic criticism for their slow response to Katrina.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) had about 250 specialist workers in the state already, Easley said.

The Department of Homeland Security also said that several hundred trailers loaded with water and ice and dozens of trailers with emergency meals had been pre-positioned in several states around North Carolina.

US weekly jobless claims surged by 71 000 over the past week, with nearly all of the increase attributable to the impact of Hurricane Katrina, the Labour Department said on Thursday.

Weekly claims totaled 398 000, compared with a revised 327 000 in the prior week.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the devastation of the hurricane and its floods would mean the loss of about 400 000 jobs this year. – AFP



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Laurent Thomet
Laurent Thomet
AFP China deputy bureau chief.

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