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Recovery Begins After Hurricane Ike, Bush to Visit Affected Area

Search teams are spreading out along the U.S. Gulf Coast, looking for people stranded after Hurricane Ike. Emergency officials in Texas say they have rescued about 2,000 people who ignored evacuation orders and were stranded by Hurricane Ike. They say thousands of others are in the same situation. VOA's Paula Wolfson report from the White House President George Bush will tour the region on Tuesday.

President Bush says he wants to get a first hand look at the damage.

"This is a tough storm and it is going to require time for people to recover," said President Bush.

Hurricane Ike came ashore early Saturday along the Texas Gulf Coast with strong winds and torrential rains. As it weakened and moved out, the search for the missing began, along with the slow task of assessing damage and restoring essential services.

President Bush says search and rescue is now the top priority. But he says action is also being taken to help the millions who remain without electricity.

"Interestingly enough, some electricity is already being restored to Houston, I am told," said Mr. Bush. "And I do want to thank the utility companies for working hard to get electricity up."

But it is likely to take some time before power is fully restored. And for now, the people of Houston - the fourth-largest city in the United States - are under an overnight curfew due to the outages.

Complicating matters is massive storm debris - including downed trees and shattered glass from broken windows. In the barrier island town of Galveston, homes and businesses were flooded out, and when the storm winds receded, the local highway was covered with boats and other refuse left behind by the sea.

President Bush has been getting regular updates on conditions. After a briefing early Sunday, he warned local residents who evacuated to stay away until local officials say it is safe to return.

"It is very important for citizens, who I know are anxious to get home, to take your time and listen, take the advice of local folks," he said.

There is also concern about gas and oil refineries in the region slammed by Ike. They were spared the worst of the storm. But work was disrupted and some may remain closed for some time due to power outages.

As a result, gasoline prices in the United States are rising sharply. President Bush says it is too early to determine the extent of the damage the hurricane will have on gasoline production and distribution. But he makes clear price gouging will not be tolerated.

"The federal government, along with state governments, will be monitoring very carefully as to whether or nor consumers are being mistreated at the pump," said President Bush.

President Bush has already declared a federal disaster in large parts of Texas and neighboring Louisiana. The move clears the way for massive government assistance to flow into the region. Although it will take some time before the full extent of the damage is known, Ike is expected to be one of the costliest storms ever to hit the United States.