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Bush Visits Hurricane Damage in Louisiana

U.S. President George Bush has released some oil from America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Wednesday to help areas along the Gulf Coast struck by Hurricane Gustav. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush visited an emergency operations center in the Louisiana city of Baton Rouge which was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Gustav.

He saw downed trees and power lines, but was unable to conduct an aerial tour of the damage because of heavy rains.

Mr. Bush told reporters at the emergency center that he has released some oil from America's strategic reserves to help ease a shortage of petroleum in southern Louisiana.

"Last night we got a request from a company doing business here in Louisiana and we met that request," said President Bush. "So oil was released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and we will continue to do that upon request by companies. All in all, the response has been excellent."

It is the president's second trip to the Gulf Coast since the storm hit the United States on Monday, killing at least seven people.

President Bush and local officials were widely criticized for their poor response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago. This time, Mr. Bush says the response is much improved.

"We are much better coordinated this time than we were with Katrina," said Mr. Bush. "State government, the local government, and the federal government were able to work effectively together. There is still more work to be done."

Much of Louisiana remains without electricity, and the president urged utility companies in neighboring states to send extra workers to help restore power.

During his trip, the president was briefed on storm damage by Federal Emergency Management Agency chief David Paulison. Mr. Bush also telephoned Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Paulison is urging those who have left their homes to stay where they are until local officials give the all-clear to return. Because many areas are still without power and sewers, Paulison says people coming back too soon would burden the community as there are few places to buy food or fuel.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies is appealing for $1.6 million to support relief efforts in Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Gustav.

The Red Cross says more than 35,000 people in the region have been affected by the storm, including 7,000 families in Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.