WASHINGTON -- Government at all levels took an indifferent stance toward disaster preparations after the 2001 terror attacks, leaving the Gulf Coast vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina and contributing to the death and suffering the storm inflicted, a House inquiry concludes.
Finding fault with the White House down to local officials, the 520-page report, titled ''A Failure of Initiative," concluded that authorities failed to move quickly to protect people, even when faced with warnings days before the catastrophic storm struck last Aug. 29.
''Passivity did the most damage," concluded the report, which was written by a Republican-dominated special House committee and obtained last night by the Associated Press. ''The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are."
The hard-hitting report concludes that President Bush could have speeded the response by becoming involved in the crisis earlier. It says he was not receiving guidance from a disaster specialist who would have understood the scope of the storm's destruction.
''Earlier presidential involvement might have resulted in a more effective response," the inquiry concluded.
The White House had no immediate comment yesterday.
The inquiry into one of the nation's worst natural disasters looked at everything from the evacuation to the military's role to planning for emergency supplies and in each category found much to criticize.
''The single biggest failure of the federal response was that it failed to recognize the likely consequences of the approaching storm and mobilize federal assets for a post-storm evacuation of the flooded city," the report said. ''If it had, then federal assistance would have arrived several days earlier."
Typical of the report's unsparing tone, it warned, ''The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina should disturb all Americans."
The House study is the first to be completed in a series of inquiries by Congress and the Bush administration about the massive failures exposed by Katrina.