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Bush Visits Hurricane Damaged Texas

President Bush says it is not yet safe for many of the people displaced by Gulf Coast hurricanes to return home. Mr. Bush toured areas damaged by Hurricane Rita in the states of Texas and Louisiana.

President Bush says he has heard loud-and-clear from local officials in Louisiana that people are getting frustrated at not being able to return home.

"I understand there is a lot of frustrations with the people who left this part of the country," said Mr. Bush. "People who are scattered around want to come back and see their homes and they want to come back to the communities they love. But it is very important for them to understand that now is not the time to come back until they get the utilities up and running, until they can get the sewer systems running, until they get some water people can drink."

Mr. Bush says it is important for people to listen to local officials about when it might be safe to return to their homes.

It is the president's seventh trip to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina struck August 29, killing more than 1,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.

Public opinion polls show Americans blame officials at all levels of government for the slow response to the killer storm. The president's approval ratings fell after Hurricane Katrina and he was much more visibly involved in preparing for Hurricane Rita.

While that storm was not as deadly, it did cause widespread flooding and major damage to many towns in Texas and Louisiana. There were also huge traffic jams as hundreds of thousands of people tried to flee the city of Houston.

During an aerial tour of hurricane-affected areas, President Bush surveyed damage to offshore oilrigs and onshore refineries.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the president wants to expand American oil refining capacity, which was already constricted before the impact of two hurricanes in less than a month.

Most of the Gulf Coast refineries were operating at above 90 percent, and Mr. McClellan says the president is concerned that it takes too long to bring new refineries on line at a time of record U.S. petroleum prices.