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Bush Sees Spirit of Hope in Hurricane-Ravaged Gulf

President Bush says a spirit of hope has taken hold in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast of the United States. The president spoke during his eighth visit to the region since the killer storm.

Before dawn, the president was hammering plywood at a building site known simply as "hope village."

"I think we have seen the spirits change. When the storm hit, it was an overwhelming moment for a lot of people. And then the local people are beginning to realize there is hope and there is a chance to rebuild lives and a lot of people care about them," he said.

A neighborhood just north of New Orleans, Louisiana that was once reduced to piles of storm debris is being rebuilt, house by house. A national charity called Habitat for Humanity has raised the money for supplies, and volunteers are providing the labor.

On this particular morning, President Bush was one of the workers. He was interviewed on NBC's Today show.

"It's a remarkable spirit here in this part of the world," said Mr. Bush. "I mean people have said, look, we are going to rebuild our lives. They realize a lot of people from around the country want to help them."

Mr. Bush arrived in the area the previous evening to meet with local officials about rebuilding plans and the role of the federal government. Repeating assurances he had given earlier, the president vowed the people of the Gulf Coast will decide the future of the region, particularly the fate of New Orleans, which lies below sea level.

"Last night, Laura and I had dinner with Mayor [Ray] Nagin and a group of distinguished New Orleans citizens from all walks of life," he said. "And my message to them was, we will support the plan that you develop."

The president acknowledged mistakes were made in the early stages of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which hit the region just over one month ago. And he rejected the notion that his visit to the building site, which was carried live on the most popular morning television program in the United States, was merely a picture-taking opportunity. He said he came to the site to encourage and inspire others to help out, and not to engage in politics.

"One of the things that I suggested was we keep the politics out of New Orleans and Mississippi as we all work together to rebuild these communities," the president said. "And we have got people here who volunteered their time from all over the country. And they didn't say I am a Democrat and I am going to work here, or I am a Republican and I am going to work here. They said I am an American who wants to contribute."

Before heading back to Washington, the president also stopped in the neighboring state of Mississippi, where he visited a school that reopened this week in the town of Pass Christian, another community hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina.

At least 16 Mississippi schools were totally destroyed by the storm.