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Schwarzenegger: Chertoff to Consider Aid for California Levees

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will tour the Sacramento area to see if federal help is needed to prevent a Katrina-style disaster there, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Monday.

Schwarzenegger said Chertoff made the commitment during a meeting in which Schwarzenegger pressed him to support a federal disaster declaration for Sacramento's fragile river and delta levee system. On Friday, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for the levees to try to get quick funding to repair them.

"He said that he will help, that he will look into it," Schwarzenegger told The Associated Press in an interview. "He has committed to come to California to take a tour with me."

"It's always easier if you see it," said Schwarzenegger, who toured the levees by helicopter several days before issuing the disaster declaration.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, which covers 738,000 acres, receives runoff from more than 40 percent of California. Much of the land is below sea level and relies on more than 1,000 miles of levees for protection against flooding, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Because of weaknesses in the levees -- some built more than 100 years ago -- there are fears that an earthquake or flood could cause catastrophic flooding.

Schwarzenegger and Chertoff also discussed the need to ensure that the federal government would be prepared to respond to a disaster in the nation's most populous state.

In response to requests from Democratic senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Chertoff has said the federal government has no specific plan to respond to a catastrophic earthquake in California.

Such a scenario would be covered by the government's national response plan, Chertoff said earlier this month in a letter to Boxer, and beyond that states are responsible for developing their own plans. Chertoff told Boxer Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are reviewing California's plan.

Schwarzenegger met with Chertoff before a White House meeting Monday with President Bush and fellow governors, who are in town for the annual National Governors Association conference.