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Originally published September 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 2, 2005 at 9:07 AM

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Hastert: New Orleans "could be bulldozed"

It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's 7 feet under sea level, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of federal...

WASHINGTON — It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's 7 feet under sea level, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of federal assistance for hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

"It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," the Illinois Republican said in an interview Wednesday with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.

Two Louisiana Democrats were quick to disagree yesterday. Rep. Charlie Melancon called the comments irresponsible, and Sen. Mary Landrieu urged Hastert to focus on the humanitarian crisis at hand.

Hastert, in a transcript supplied by the suburban Chicago newspaper, said there was no question that New Orleans residents would rebuild their city, but noted that federal insurance and other federal aid were involved. "We ought to take a second look at it. But you know we build Los Angeles and San Francisco on top of earthquake fissures and they rebuild, too. Stubbornness."

Asked whether it made sense to spend billions rebuilding a city that lies below sea level, he replied, "I don't know. That doesn't make sense to me."

Hastert later issued a statement saying he was not "advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated."

Still, an angry Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco demanded an immediate apology.

"To kick us when we're down and destroy hope, when hope is the only thing we have left, is absolutely unthinkable for a leader in his position," Blanco said in a news conference last night.

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