Ex-Secretary of State Powell slams U.S. storm effort

  • World
  • Friday, 09 Sep 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Colin Powell, the former U.S. secretary of state seen as a potential leader for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, has joined the chorus of Americans criticising the disaster response at all levels of government. 

"There have been a lot of failures at a lot of levels -- local, state and federal," Powell said in an ABC interview for the "20/20" program to be broadcast on Friday evening. 

American political figures from both major parties have assailed the slow response to the hurricane's assault last week on the U.S. Gulf Coast, which devastated New Orleans and killed hundreds, possibly thousands, in the region. 

Former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell is seen in Bangkok in this June 2005 file photo. (REUTERS/Chaiwat)

"There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why," Powell said in excerpts on ABC's Web site. 

He said he did not think that race was a factor in the slow response, but that many of those unable to leave New Orleans in time were trapped by poverty which disproportionately affects blacks. 

Powell was the highest-ranking black official during U.S. President George W. Bush's first term and chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War. He is among various names mentioned in Washington as a potential "hurricane czar" to take over the long-term recovery effort. 

Two senators from Bush's Republican party on Thursday proposed that such a job be created. White House officials have not ruled out the option, saying it is among several being discussed. 

Some black leaders, including Democrats in Congress, have charged that racism contributed to the misery of New Orleans' predominantly black storm victims. 

"I don't think it's racism, I think it's economic," Powell said. "But poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor." 

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