Andrew's Aftermath

A NATION'S heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of people in south Florida and coastal Louisiana left homeless by Hurricane Andrew. The outpouring of public support for the storm's victims in donations and volunteerism has been inspiring, but the needs are only starting to be met. Americans' compassion will have to show stamina as well as intensity.

The federal response to the calamity, though rather sputtering at first, has been massive and generally efficient. President Bush, besides drawing on all the relevant civilian agencies, rightly mobilized military resources for the relief effort. Soldiers and marines have rapidly erected tent cities and field kitchens in the last few days, while sailors and airmen have ferried food and supplies into the stricken areas.

One disappointment was the ineffective performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the days immediately after Andrew struck the Florida coast Aug. 24. The federal response lacked coherence and urgency until Mr. Bush put Transportation Secretary Andrew Card Jr. in charge. Critics call the agency, which exists to coordinate federal disaster-relief efforts, a dumping ground for politicians' cronies. Congress should conduct a thorough investigation of FEMA after the crisis is over.

There were some bright spots along with Andrew's devastation. Improved satellite technology afforded early and accurate information about the hurricane's landfall, and effective government warnings facilitated timely evacuations that minimized the loss of life.

It was probably inevitable in an election year that the federal relief effort would become intertwined with politics. Bush needs Florida's electoral votes to win in November. Naturally the president, wishing to convey his no-doubt heartfelt concern, denies that political considerations have lent wings to the relief drive. But so what if a few political calculations have flickered through his thought? Isn't that the whole point of elections - to make politicians responsive to voters?

Bush might as well acknowledge the political ramifications of Andrew, because the media and many of his critics have done so. Calling the federal response a test of Bush's attention to domestic problems, they virtually put a stopwatch on him the moment the hurricane struck. Some of the instant-analysis criticisms of the White House's performance have seemed hasty and unfair. Overall Bush has performed creditably as a crisis manager.

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