President Tours Flooded New Orleans

The president started the day with a briefing aboard the USS Iwo Jima, the amphibious assault ship anchored in the Mississippi River that is being used as a command center for military operations.

He told reporters there was no racial component to the hurricane evacuation effort in New Orleans, which has been roundly criticized as being too slow.

“The storm didn’t discriminate and neither will the recovery effort,” the president said, reported the Associated Press. “The rescue efforts were comprehensive. The recovery will be comprehensive.”

He also rejected the notion that the nation’s military was stretched too thin by the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

“We’ve got plenty of troops to do both,” he said. “It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there weren’t enough troops.”

As for the outlook of rebuilding New Orleans, a city approximately 450,000 people once called home, President Bush said, “We’re beginning to think through how to reconstitute this really important state and city.”

The president also planned on visiting the hurricane-destroyed town of Gulfport, Miss.

Meanwhile, signs of life were beginning to emerge in New Orleans, which was still about 50 percent flooded as pumps worked to drain the city.

Business owners in the central district were given passes into the city to retrieve vital records or equipment needed to run their companies, according to the AP.

Trash collection began over the weekend, and the airport was reopened to handle cargo flights.

U.S. Air Force planes were expected to begin spraying pesticides over the region to control an anticipated increase in the mosquito population.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that some parts of the city might reopen within 90 days, depending on water quality tests.

Louisiana has tallied 154 deaths from the storm, according to the state Health and Hospitals Department, rather than the 10,000 that Mayor Nagin had estimated earlier in the week. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said the death toll in Mississippi has reached 211, reported Bloomberg News.