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NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 3 -- Tens of thousands of people spent a fifth day awaiting evacuation from this ruined city, as Bush administration officials blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country's emergency management.
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.
...As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said...
§ 5192. Federal emergency assistance [Sec. 502]
In any emergency, the President may--
1. direct any Federal agency, with or without reimbursement, to utilize its authorities and the resources granted to it under Federal law (including personnel, equipment, supplies, facilities, and managerial, technical and advisory services) in support of State and local emergency assistance efforts to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, and lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe;
2. coordinate all disaster relief assistance (including voluntary assistance) provided by Federal agencies, private organizations, and State and local governments;
3. provide technical and advisory assistance to affected State and local governments for--
A. the performance of essential community services;
B. issuance of warnings of risks or hazards;
C. public health and safety information, including dissemination of such information;
D. provision of health and safety measures; and
E. management, control, and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety;
4. provide emergency assistance through Federal agencies;
5. remove debris in accordance with the terms and conditions of section 407 [42 U.S.C. § 5173];
6. provide assistance in accordance with section 408 [42 U.S.C. § 5174]; and [(Pub.L. 106-390, § 206(b), October 30, 2000)]
7. assist State and local governments in the distribution of medicine, food, and other consumable supplies, and emergency assistance.
Whenever the Federal assistance provided under subsection (a) with respect to an emergency is inadequate, the President may also provide assistance with respect to efforts to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, and lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.