Pres. Bush tours Gulf Coast, vows bright future will emerge
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--President Bush traveled to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast region Sept. 2 to experience the extensive despair firsthand and assure the nation that he is doing all he can to expedite recovery efforts.
President Bush arrived in Mobile, Ala., around 10:30 a.m. to receive a briefing on the damage and then took a walking tour of Biloxi, Miss. He put his arms around a mother and daughter who told him they had lost absolutely everything -- just one of untold thousands in a similar situation.
"First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation," Bush said at the Mobile Regional Airport upon his arrival. "And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before.
"Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch," he said, referring to the former Senate majority leader who lost his 154-year-old family home in Pascagoula, Miss.
Bush met with the heads of the Red Cross and Salvation Army, as well as the governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana and mayors of cities affected by Katrina.
"I don't think anybody can be prepared for the vastness of this destruction," he said. "You can look at a picture, but until you sit on that doorstep of a house that used to be, or stand by the rubble, you just can't imagine it."
The president urged Americans to donate money to charities like the Red Cross and Salvation Army because "one of the main delivery systems [for relief] will be the armies of compassion."
Now that the Senate and House of Representatives have reconvened early to approve a $10.5 billion emergency aid package, Bush said he intends to sign the bill right away as "the first down payment" on recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast.
"It's going to take a monumental effort to continue moving forward, but we will," he said. "And this is a nation that has done a lot of big things before, and this is going to be one of the biggest, which is to recover from one of the worst storms, if not the worst storm."
From Biloxi, Bush made his way to New Orleans via helicopter, surveying the widespread destruction. In New Orleans, Bush got an up-close look at the repair work being done on one of the major levees that broke and caused the massive flooding of the city. Then he addressed reporters at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
"You know, I'm going to fly out of here in a minute, but I want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen," he said. "I understand the devastation requires more than one day's attention. It's going to require the attention of this country for a long period of time."
The president turned again to the positive, reassuring citizens in shock that a better day is ahead.
"I believe that the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of New Orleans," Bush declared. "... I believe the great state of Louisiana will get its feet back and become a vital contributor to the country."
Before leaving Washington Friday morning, the president spoke briefly to the press with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff by his side, and he offered a pointed assessment of the situation.
"A lot of people are working hard to help those who have been affected, and I want to thank the people for their efforts. The results are not acceptable," Bush said, referring to the rampant lawlessness that had overtaken the city of New Orleans as looting and violence escalated. Reports of rape, beatings and armed robberies surfaced as mobs of people demanded food, water and an escape method.
The Houston Astrodome, which one day earlier had been the bastion of hope for many New Orleans victims, announced it had reached capacity by early Friday with more than 15,000 evacuees occupying cots on the facility's concrete floor. Plans were being made to allow thousands to enter the adjacent Reliant Center conference/exhibition facility, according to MSNBC.com. Others would be sent to Dallas' Reunion Arena or a San Antonio warehouse.
Hospitals in New Orleans continued the hard work of evacuating frail patients as supplies ran out and electricity was to remain off for weeks. Airlifting was hampered by gunmen who shot at helicopters and demanded that their families be taken first.
The chief of Louisiana's State Police said numerous New Orleans police officers were turning in their badges, saying they had lost all their possessions and refused to risk their lives on the dangerous streets, MSNBC.com reported.
In Mississippi, destruction was every bit as intense -- only without the flooding and incredible lawlessness. Looting and violence was present, though limited. Obliterated homes and rotting corpses were tremendous obstacles for those seeking the next step, but Gov. Haley Barbour encouraged them to press on toward recovery.
"I will say, sometimes I'm scared too," he said. "But we are going to hitch up our britches. We're going to get this done.