Cheney, Gonzales Tour Stricken Gulf Coast

Associated Press Writer

GULFPORT, Miss.-- Walking a debris-strewn street, Vice President Dick Cheney declared Thursday that much progress is being made in a disaster relief effort he termed "very impressive."

Cheney's plane took him on a course over heavily damaged houses as he arrived in this Gulf Coast town destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. After meeting with state and local officials, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, toured a particularly hard-hit part of the town.

The vice president told reporters he was struck by the "very, very positive, can-do attitude" of Mississippians toward the help they are getting. In general, Mississippi officials have been much more complimentary of the federal hurricane response than those from Louisiana and, particularly, New Orleans.

From Gulfport, Cheney flew by helicopter along the ravaged coastline to New Orleans. He landed in a parking lot across from the convention center where thousands of evacuees lived in filth for days.

President Bush dispatched Cheney to the region _ amid persistent criticism of the sluggish pace of the federal response _ to examine any bureaucratic red tape getting in the way of helping people and to focus on the long-term issues.

"I think the progress we're making is significant," Cheney said. "I think the performance, in general, at least in terms of the information I've received from locals, is definitely very impressive."

He added: "That's not to say there's not an awful lot of work to be done _ there obviously is."

While Cheney spoke, a passer-by hurled an expletive at the vice president. "First time I've heard it," Cheney said, when asked if he was hearing a lot of such sentiments.

Cheney walked about two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico along a street littered with broken wood, downed trees and furniture. Some houses were severely damaged, some hardly at all.

He talked to a man whose house was knocked off its foundation and had extensive roof damage and two or three arm chairs sitting in the front yard. He visited Rebecca Dubuisson, who said she spent a year and a half adding an extension on her house only to see it wiped away by the hurricane. "We've got a beach view now," she said.

Dubuisson said she didn't want to criticize the relief effort. "I don't know that you could have prepared for it," she said.

Cheney said immediate needs for the victims include providing housing, supplies and clean up. He also said mental health issues need to be addressed, but he didn't know how that would be approached.

The vice president said another issue is determining whether insurers should pay for damages if homeowners' policies did not include coverage for floods. Most insurance policies do not include flood coverage.

Most of the people Cheney met with were friendly. Lynne Lofton, whose house further down the street was destroyed, was an exception.

"I think this media opportunity today is a terrible waste of time and taxpayer money," she said. "They've picked a nice neighborhood where people have insurance and most are Republicans."

Cheney was also accompanied by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Later Thursday, Cheney was heading to Louisiana.