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Bush Tours Hurricane Areas, Two Former Presidents Seek Aid

  • Stephanie Ho

President Bush has gone on another inspection tour of areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. With the death toll still climbing, thousands of rescue and relief workers have gone to the region to help the survivors.

Large-scale evacuations from New Orleans have been completed, and federal officials are urging those still in the city to leave. At the same time, authorities continue to search for any remaining survivors who may be trapped in buildings.

New Orleans Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley says law enforcement authorities are making more progress in the city, as the flood waters recede.

"Obviously, the first three days, we focused on rescues, because of the thousands of people that were stranded in houses, in attics and tree limbs that were surrounded by water," Mr. Riley says. "We have gotten more into a law enforcement mode now. We are targeting looters. We are targeting people who want to create mayhem in the city."

Officials say they expect the final death toll to be in the thousands. Bodies are everywhere in the city, floating in canals, abandoned on highways and hidden in attics.

President Bush toured hurricane-ravaged areas again Monday, meeting with state and local officials to discuss relief efforts. This is his second such visit since last week's storm.

In Louisiana, he said the first mission is to save lives. In Mississippi, he emphasized his government's commitment to the region.

"I understand the damage. I understand the devastation," Mr. Bush says. "I understand the destruction. I understand how long it's going to take. And we're with you. That's what I want you to know."

Meantime, the U.S. government has been sending troops to the Gulf Coast to help with relief efforts and maintain order.

The head of the U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Thomas Keating says, "We've got almost 13,000 active duty forces in theater right now. In theater, that's the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi area, we call our joint operations area."

He added that there are already 38,000 National Guard troops in the area, as well as more than 7,000 Army and Marine troops on their way.

Meanwhile, former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton are spearheading a private effort to raise money for hurricane recovery. The two former presidents are heading up a fund that will provide money directly to the governors of the three most-affected states - Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

President Bush asked the two men to help with the task.

President Clinton said the two former presidents were inspired by their efforts helping raise money for tsunami relief in Asia earlier this year.

"One of the reasons George and I agreed to do this is because we saw something halfway around the world in the tsunami, and all of a sudden, here it was in our backyard. And a lot of the people have a lot in common," Mr. Clinton says.

New Orleans residents, among others, have sharply criticized the Bush administration for responding too slowly to the disaster. Former President Bush said he thinks the current president, his son, is tough enough to, in his words, "take it."

"What do I think as a father? I don't like it," former President Bush says. "But what do you think as one who was president, and I expect President Clinton feels the same way? It goes with the territory."

At the center of the disaster are the tens-of-thousands of people who have lost everything. Psychologist Phil McGraw, who hosts a television talk show, told NBC's "Today" show, many of the evacuees he talked to in Houston lack a sense of direction.

"So often, we've seen disasters where people have had to pull back for as much as a couple of weeks, and then go back in, do the clean up and start over," Mr. McGraw says. "These people know they may never go home. In fact, in their town hall meeting in Houston yesterday, probably 80 percent of the participants said they had no intention of ever returning to the New Orleans area, because they know there's just nothing left for them. They're aimless at this point and don't know where they're headed."

The American Red Cross is caring for 135,000 survivors in more than 470 shelters. The relief agency is also trying to help reunite thousands of hurricane victims, who were split up from or lost contact with their friends or family.