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Hastert: Rebuilding New Orleans Under Sea Level Makes No Sense

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

Democratic lawmakers from Louisiana were quick to disagree Thursday and Hastert sought to clarify the comment during the day.

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

Louisiana Rep. Charlie Melancon (search) called the comments irresponsible and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (search) 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 the people of New Orleans would rebuild their city, but noted that federal insurance and other federal aid was 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."

There are "some real tough questions to ask," Hastert said in the interview. "How do you go about rebuilding this city? What precautions do you take?"

Asked in the interview 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."

"My comments about rebuilding the city were intended to reflect my sincere concern with how the city is rebuilt to ensure the future protection of its citizens and not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt," the statement said.

Landrieu issued a statement sayings Hastert's question on how to rebuild can be debated later but that right now the focus must be on stabilizing the situation in the state.

"When we do discuss the long-term rebuilding of New Orleans and the parishes of St. Tammany, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and Jefferson, I will do everything I can to express that southeast Louisiana is filled with the most extraordinary of people ... the most extraordinary of resources" who are "worth every penny of a complete rebuilding effort."

Hastert announced Thursday that the House, currently at the end of its summer break, would return for an emergency session Friday to approve some $10 billion in federal aid for hurricane victims.

"In the wake of this disaster, the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida should know that the United States Congress stands ready to help them in their time of need," he said in a joint statement with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.