The U.S. Congress has cut short its summer recess to return to Washington to consider a package of emergency relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Senate approved the funds late Thursday night, and the House of Representatives is expected to follow suit Friday.
President Bush asked Congress Thursday for $10.5 billion in disaster relief for hurricane ravaged Gulf coast states. With many members of Congress still in their home districts, lawmakers agreed to use a unanimous consent procedure, which allows for expedited approval of legislation that does not face opposition.
As the Senate approved the package Thursday night, Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, underscored the urgency of the aid.
"People are still stranded, and they are reaching their breaking point, and they need our help now," he said.
The top Democrat in the Senate, Senator Harry Reid, echoed the comments.
"There can be no more important challenge facing this body in the days ahead than providing relief to the victims of this catastrophe," he said.
Ten billion dollars of the aid will help replenish funds in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's emergency fund, and $500 million will go to the Defense Department for its mission to bring hurricane relief. The Bush administration is expected to ask Congress for additional emergency funds in the coming weeks once there is a better assessment of needs.
Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Monday with thousands of people feared dead. Tens of thousands of people remain without access to food, water, shelter, or medical care. Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi toured storm-ravaged areas of his state Wednesday, and described the scene on the Senate floor.
"It was quiet, it was eerie, it was a horrible site to behold," he said.
Once the House gives its expected approval Friday, the aid package will go to President Bush for his signature. Congress formally returns to work Tuesday.