Rice: Race Not An Issue In Efforts

Surrounded by local officials and volunteers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answers a question during a news conference Sunday Sept. 4, 2005 at the community center in Bayou La Batre, Ala., that has been turned into a relief center for victims of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Rob Carr) AP

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended President Bush on Sunday against charges that the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina showed racial insensitivity.

"Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race," the administration's highest-ranking black said as she toured damaged parts of her native Alabama.

Later, during a service at the Pilgrim Rest AME Zion church outside Mobile, Rice nodded in agreement as the Rev. Malone Smith Jr. advised the congregation, "Wait for the Lord."

"There are some things the president can do; there are some things the government can do," Smith told about 300 worshippers during a rollicking two-hour service. "But God can do all things. I want you to know he's never late. He's always on time."

Rice later echoed the call for patience.

"The Lord is going to come on time — if we just wait," she said.

It was a sort of homecoming for Rice, an Alabama native and granddaughter of a Presbyterian minister.

Her visit came as some black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have complained bitterly about the slow response to the disaster, whose victims have been disproportionately black and poor. They have said racial injustice was a factor in the government's slow relief effort.

"How can that be the case? Americans don't want to see Americans suffer," Rice said. "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."

Since Katrina struck, an estimated 70 nations, from Azerbaijan to Venezuela, have offered hundreds of millions in cash donations for the federal government to relay to the American Red Cross, Rice said. Many countries have also donated supplies, ranging from helicopters and medical aid to food and blankets.

Among the largest contributions was Kuwait's $400 million worth of petroleum product plus $100 million in cash for the Red Cross. Among the smallest: $25,000 in cash from Sri Lanka, a poor nation still recovering from last December's tsunami.

After the church service, Rice visited a community center in Bayou La Batre, one of Alabama's hardest hit areas. Flood waters following Katrina reached 11 feet in some places in southern Alabama, while about 718,000 homes and businesses in Mobile were left without power for days, and at least two people died.

Republican Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, escorting Rice through the community, said power had been restored to all but about 50,000 residents and businesses, while up to 2,500 Alabamians were still looking for shelter.

"It was devastating, but in comparison to what they had in southern Mississippi and Louisiana, it kind of pales in comparison," Riley said.

While welcoming Rice, some Alabamians expressed frustration with the administration's response.

"It's so unfortunate that the time it's taken to rescue them is too long," Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Kennedy said at the church service. "Had the response been more timely, I think we could have saved lives. To be so slow in coming, people lose hope."

While touring domestic disasters falls outside her official domain, Rice told Mr. Bush that "if there is anything I can do outside of my responsibilities as secretary of state, I'd be happy to do that, too." She was criticized last week for attending a Broadway show and shopping in New York during an abbreviated vacation.
  • Gina Pace

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