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Local Disasters, National Response to Hurricane

President George Bush is on his way back to Washington, cutting short his Texas vacation to oversee the federal response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Medical disaster teams and Red Cross workers from across the U.S. have converged on the region to try to help tens of thousands of displaced people. The Bush administration is taking steps to help Americans already facing rapidly escalating gas prices.

The Bush administration announced Wednesday that it will release oil from the national reserve.

The U.S. government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve contains nearly 700 million barrels of crude oil stored in huge underground salt caverns. Hurricane Katrina shut down key refineries and many oil-drilling rigs in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil prices spiked above 70 U.S. dollars a barrel for a second consecutive day, as nervous investors worried about Katrina's impact on the Gulf's refineries and oil rigs. Even before the hurricane, world oil prices were high, driven by strong demand.

There are estimates that as much as 80 percent of the city of New Orleans is under water, after two levees that protected the historic city gave way under the force of surging waters.

Coast Guard rescue teams pulled several people to safety from rooftops and floodwaters contaminated by waste, debris, and bodies.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, casinos, hotels, and restaurants were destroyed by the storm surge that was recorded as high as 25 feet above sea level. The U.S. Navy is sending four ships carrying water and other supplies to the region.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was among several elected officials who took a helicopter tour of the devastation. "What I saw today is equivalent to what I saw flying over the tsunami in Indonesia. There are places that are no longer there."

Part of what is there in New Orleans may not be for long. Looters are grabbing whatever they can. One New Orleans police officer says his department is too undermanned to do anything to stop them.