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President Bush Pledges Aid for Florida Hurricane Victims - 2004-09-08

President Bush visited hurricane-damaged Florida on Wednesday. His trip came one day after the U.S. Congress approved $2 billion in emergency aid to help Floridians recover from the two hurricanes that struck Florida over the past month. Mr. Bush also visited the National Hurricane Center in Miami, where forecasters are tracking Hurricane Ivan, now menacing the Caribbean.

President Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, briefly helped volunteers distribute food and water to hurricane victims in the hard-hit town of Ft. Pierce, about 200 kilometers north of Miami, where Hurricane Frances came ashore several days ago.

Last month, President Bush visited victims of Hurricane Charley on Florida's west coast. Speaking at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Mr. Bush says federal aid will help Floridians recover from both storms.

"The people of this state are overcoming adversity once again. The government is responding with needed resources," said Mr. Bush. "Businesses and community and faith-based groups are helping to speed the recovery, and in tragedy the people of this state and the people across America are responding with goodness and generosity."

Hurricane Frances cut a swath across the entire state of Florida and many residents of central and northern Florida are still without power, days later. Long lines are reported at the few gas stations open in areas where Hurricane Frances did the most damage. Florida's Lieutenant Governor, Toni Jennings, says it will take some time for the region's infrastructure to recover.

"Fuel is going to be an issue until we can get it to the retail establishments and until they have power to be able to pump," she said. "So caution is the word. We are still in our safety mode. More accidents happen and more fatalities occur after a storm than during a storm usually."

Mr. Bush's visit was criticized by at least one Florida Democratic Congressman, who called it a "photo opportunity." Speaking last month during his visit to survey Hurricane Charley damage, Mr. Bush said he would be more harshly criticized if he failed to visit the site of a natural disaster.

Florida's chief financial officer says insured damage from Hurricane Frances is between $2-billion and $4 billion. Total damage costs are usually double what insured losses are. Damage estimates from Hurricane Charley are higher due to the severity of the storm. Among the places hardest hit by Hurricane Frances is the Kennedy Space Center, where the huge hanger that houses the space shuttle was heavily damaged, although no shuttle vehicles were on site when the storm struck.

Mr. Bush thanked forecasters at the National Hurricane Center for their work in tracking an unusually high number of storms this year. Forecasters say Hurricane Ivan, which caused several deaths when it passed over Grenada, is now heading toward Jamaica and Cuba. They say the storm could also strike Florida by the end of the week.