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Admiral takes over Katrina relief

FEMA chief recalled to Washington to prepare for future storms

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen will head up on-site Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.



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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen will replace FEMA director Michael Brown as the on-site head of hurricane relief operations in the Gulf Coast, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Friday afternoon.

Brown will head back to Washington from Louisiana to oversee the big picture, the official said. (Full Story)

Allen has been an assistant to Brown in the Gulf region. (Allen profile)

While announcing the leadership change, Chertoff praised the FEMA director's response to the devastating storm. (Watch Chertoff's annoucement -- 8:26)

"Hurricane Katrina will go down as the largest natural disaster in American history," the secretary said at a news conference in Baton Rouge. "Mike Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the response to this unprecedented challenge. I appreciate his work, as does everybody here."

Chertoff would not allow Brown to answer a reporter's question as to whether this was the first step in Brown's resignation. He also did not respond to a question regarding Time Magazine's report that Brown's resume contained inaccuracies. FEMA issued a statement calling the article "misleading."

Time magazine published an article Friday on its Web site questioning the qualifications of Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown . (Full Storyexternal link)

Chertoff said Brown would work on preparations for future storms, including Tropical Storm Ophelia, which is off the Florida coast. (Full story)

"FEMA is fully capable of handling multi-storm operations," Brown said in a written statement. "I am returning to Washington, D.C., to resume oversight over operations for the arrival of Hurricane Ophelia and the immediate response efforts."

Bush to revisit disaster area

Also Friday, the White House said President Bush will return to Mississippi and Louisiana on Sunday.

Bush will stay overnight in Louisiana before returning to Washington on Monday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The president is facing blistering criticism for his administration's handling of the disaster.

Bush first traveled to the region on September 2, four days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and spread destruction along a huge swath of the Gulf Coast.

He returned to the region on Monday for another one-day visit.

During a speech at the State Department on Friday, the president said: "America is a strong and resilient nation. Our people have the spirit, the resources and the determination to overcome any challenge." (Watch Bush's comments -- 2:39)

"In this time of struggle, the American people need to know we're not struggling alone," Bush said. "I want to thank the world community for its prayers and for the offers of assistance that have come from all around the world."

Bush signs $51.8 billion aid bill

President Bush on Thursday night signed a $51.8 billion emergency spending bill after promising survivors of Hurricane Katrina earlier in the day that the federal government "is going to be with you for the long haul."

The Senate unanimously passed the aid bill on Thursday.

The House passed its version of the bill earlier in the day by a vote of 410-11. The 11 representatives who voted against it were Republicans.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, one of the Republicans who voted against the measure, said he was concerned the bill lacked accountability.

"While the people of New Orleans and other affected areas clearly need help, I am not convinced that this legislation will provide it," said Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Earlier Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, questioned FEMA's ability to spend the money properly and suggested that a public authority similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority be created for rebuilding efforts.

"After everything that has happened with FEMA, is there anyone who believes that we should continue to let the money go to FEMA and be distributed by them?" Reid asked.

Bush on Thursday night praised Congress for moving swiftly "in strong bipartisan fashion to approve these additional emergency funds."

Action on the aid appropriation came one day after the leaders of the House and Senate announced that a bipartisan joint congressional committee will review the response, at all levels of government, to the hurricane.

Congress passed a $10.5 billion relief bill last week. The $51.8 billion first sought by the Bush administration Thursday covers five weeks and amounts to roughly $1.4 billion a day.

The White House budget chief said "substantially more" money likely will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.

And Reid said Wednesday that the need for federal disaster aid could top $150 billion.

Hurricane victims to receive immediate aid

In an address aimed at the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by the August 29 storm, Bush outlined plans to distribute $2,000 in federal aid to every affected household for immediate needs and to supply them with long-term assistance in the months ahead.

He also promised to reimburse states for the costs associated with taking in people forced to relocate, telling state leaders, "You should not be penalized for showing compassion." (Full Story)

Families can register by contacting Federal Emergency Management Agency or Red Cross teams at emergency shelters, by calling (800) 621-FEMA or by visiting www.fema.govexternal link, Bush said.

The president also called for a national day of prayer.

"I ask that we pray, as Americans have always prayed in times of trial, with confidence in his purpose, with hope for a brighter future and with the humility to ask God to keep us strong, so we can better serve our brothers and sisters in need," he said.

Landrieu blasts federal response

On Capitol Hill Thursday, Louisiana's senior senator, Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, blasted the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, calling it "incompetent and insulting" to the people of her state.

"The record for rebuilding will be staggering, but it will pale in comparison to the staggering incompetence of this national government," Landrieu said in a speech on the Senate floor.

She also said it was unfair to fault local and state officials for what many have described as an inadequate response to the storm.

She also faulted Bush for failing to recognize the severity of the situation when the levees broke, noting that public service announcements featuring the Mr. Bill clay animation character have been warning about such a scenario for two years.

"We know the president said 'I don't think anyone anticipated the break of the levee.' Everybody anticipated the break of the levee, Mr. President," she said. "How can it be that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?"

Joint panel announced

On Wednesday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, announced that a bipartisan joint congressional committee will review initial local, state and federal government response to Katrina. (Full story.)

Democrats criticized the Republican leadership for not consulting with them before announcing that a panel would be created and whether the panel can conduct an unbiased investigation. They would prefer a commission styled after the independent commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hastert and Frist said in a written statement that the committee would report its findings to Congress no later than February 15 next year.

Critics argue the federal government took too long to mobilize aid, causing thousands of storm victims to languish for days without food, water and other necessities.

The size of the panel has not been announced, and there is no word on when the hearings will begin. However, GOP leaders have said they don't want to pull officials out of the disaster area to testify.

Aides to House and Senate leaders told CNN the committee will have subpoena power, and standing House and Senate committees can use the investigative findings to craft legislation for reforms.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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