PRESIDENT Bush has mobilized the federal government to lead what
may be the largest recovery effort in modern United States history
in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.
But the effort is a scramble to catch up with public
expectations that federal agencies were not prepared to meet when
the hurricane hit shore.
In an election year, for a president burdened with a reputation
for not caring enough about the problems of ordinary Americans,
meeting those public expectations is imperative.
In the two weeks since Andrew landed, a parade of Cabinet
secretaries and agency heads have trooped through the
storm-stricken areas. Federal assistance ranges from supplying Army
MREs (meals ready-to-eat) to suspending home mortgage payments.
The president has promised that the federal government will pay
100 percent of the cost of rebuilding south Florida's public
infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and fire stations - a $5
billion to $15 billion commitment.
But the ad hoc, disorganized nature of the relief and recovery
effort is readily apparent.
Confused local officials in south Florida, wondering how to get
federal disaster assistance and lacking a single voice of authority
to guide them, have been calling their counterparts in South
Carolina - who coped with the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo three
years ago - looking for direction.
Hugo was the nation's most expensive hurricane disaster until
Andrew, which has surpassed Hugo several times over. But both
disasters have seen many of the same problems with federal
"It is not evident that they learned a lesson," says Bob Cates,
South Carolina's disaster manager for Hugo.
If South Carolinians see a sadly familiar disorder in the
hurricane response, they also see vastly more presidential
attention being lavished on south Florida than they got.
"I'm flat-out amazed," says Steve Mullins, assistant managing
editor of the Charleston Post and Courier, of one story about Bush
administration responsiveness in south Florida. "There is a huge
difference, an enormous difference in response, and people here see
it very clearly."
Roughly two days had passed after Andrew's Florida landfall
before two things registered at the White House.
First, officials at all levels began to realize the massive
scope of the damage. Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, for example, had
delayed requesting US Army assistance until the fourth day, hoping
the National Guard could handle the task. …