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Bush Pays Tribute to Hurricane Victims During National Prayer Service


President Bush has led the nation in a day of prayer and remembrance for the people killed by the winds and flood waters of Hurricane Katrina.

Washington's National Cathedral choir led a congregation of many religions in remembering those lost and those displaced by the killer storm.

President Bush spoke of the hurricane's fury and its destruction along the Gulf Coast.

"On this day of prayer and remembrance of the storm that departed two weeks ago, we are humbled by the vast and indifferent might of nature," the president said. " We feel small beside its power. We commend the departed to God. We mourn with those who mourn. And we ask for strength in the work ahead."

The president says the federal government will pay for most of that work ahead from rebuilding roads and bridges to establishing housing and health care to providing job training and primary education for hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

"Through this tragedy, great duties have come to our nation. The destruction of this hurricane was beyond any human power to control, but the restoration of broken communities and disrupted lives now rests in our hands," he said.

There is no cost estimate for this unprecedented federal spending, though the total is expected to be far higher than the $62 billion already approved by Congress as that money is expected to run out next month.

In a nationwide address Thursday evening, President Bush laid out plans for a so-called opportunity zone in the areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama hardest hit by the storm. Within this zone, Mr. Bush says there would be immediate incentives for job-creating investment and tax relief and loan guarantees for small businesses.

He also responded to some of the criticism that has followed the slow response to the storm and allegations that the delay may have been influenced by race. Many of the people trapped by the floodwaters of New Orleans were black. Public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of black Americans believe help would have come quicker if those stranded were white.

In his sermon at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, Texas Bishop T.D. Jakes spoke of the biblical Good Samaritan who cared for a man beaten and robbed by thugs.

Bishop Jakes says neighbors are not always those nearest us, those who look like us, or vote like us, or drive the same kind of car. As the physical infrastructure of the Gulf Coast is rebuilt, Bishop Jakes spoke of a hope that the devastation of the hurricane might bridge America's racial and political divide.

At the Cathedral, President Bush said every race was affected by the hurricane, but the greatest hardship fell on those already facing lives of struggle - the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor.

"And this poverty has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that has closed many doors of opportunity," Mr. Bush said. "As we clear away the debris of the hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality."

President Bush says the nation accepts the responsibility of rebuilding from the hurricane not as a burden but as an opportunity to serve fellow Americans.

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