SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Relieved and upbeat, President Bush declared Monday that the government had responded “a lot better” to Hurricane Gustav than it did to deadly Hurricane Katrina, which obliterated the Gulf Coast three years ago and damaged his administration’s credibility for handling major crises.

Eager to show that officials had learned the tragic lessons of Katrina, Bush scrapped an opening-night speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., and flew instead to emergency command centers in Texas. He landed shortly after a weakened Gustav hit Cocodrie, La., 72 miles southwest of New Orleans. Once feared as a monster storm more frightening than Katrina, Gustav struck only a glancing blow on New Orleans.

“The coordination on this storm is a lot better than on – than during Katrina,” said Bush, who left a hurricane briefing in Austin smiling, shaking hands with emergency workers and posing for pictures.

At each briefing Bush struck a cheerful tone, saying residents were successfully evacuated from the Gulf Coast, rescue supplies were in place and abundant, but that blame was not.

“There was clearly a spirit of sharing assets, of listening to somebody’s problems and saying, “How can we best address them?”‘ Bush said. “The federal government is very much involved in helping the states. Our job is to assist.”

The image of Bush, standing with FEMA Director David Paulison, shaking hands with emergency workers was that of a hands-on president in charge. Three years ago, Bush seemed out of touch and distant from the suffering as he congratulated then-FEMA Director Michael Brown and told him, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Brown later resigned amid criticism of his agency’s performance.

Katrina helped tank Bush’s job approval across the nation. His trip Monday to a Texas Emergency Operations Center in Austin, about 400 miles west of Gustav’s direct path, and the Alamo Regional Command Reception Center in San Antonio served to blur the image of Louisiana residents stranded on rooftops of homes flooded by Katrina.

Gustav slammed into the heart of Louisiana’s fishing and oil industry with 110 mph winds, but delivered only a glancing blow to New Orleans, raising hopes that the city would escape the kind of catastrophic flooding caused by Katrina, which was a bigger storm when it came ashore.

The nearly 2 million people who left coastal Louisiana on a mandatory evacuation order watched TV coverage from shelters and hotel rooms hundreds of miles away. Levees in New Orleans have survived Gustav so far, but parts of southern Louisiana remain in grave danger, federal emergency management officials said Monday.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.