As election, Sandy draw near, pressure mounts on US disaster chief

Mon Oct 29, 2012 4:56pm EDT
 
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* Emergency head seen as steady hand

* Obama aims to avoid repeat of Bush bungling on Katrina

* As election nears, Sandy may let president rise above fray

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the U.S. East Coast little more than a week before the presidential election, President Barack Obama's fortunes may in part depend on how well a former volunteer firefighter from Florida does his job.

Craig Fugate, a former paramedic and firefighter who rose to become Florida's top emergency management official, heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is the man Obama is counting on to bring relief quickly to millions of people expected to be hit by monster storm Sandy.

With the presidential election at hand and closely fought, the stakes are high for Obama to avoid an embarrassment like former President George W. Bush's botched reaction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Much of the pressure is on Fugate, who has earned high marks for his quick and effective response to recent storms. That includes Hurricane Isaac in August, the deadly May 2011 tornadoes that struck Joplin, Missouri, and Hurricane Irene, which lashed the east coast in August 2011.

Fugate, 53, was one of the few people Obama consulted in the White House Situation Room Monday morning for an update on the hurricane's movements and federal response efforts, the White House said.   Continued...