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Bush Inspects Hurricane Damage, Promises Aid

U.S. President George Bush is getting a first hand look at the damage inflicted on his home state of Texas by Hurricane Ike. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports that the president traveled Tuesday to areas hardest hit by the storm.

First in Houston, and then in Galveston, the president sought to console storm victims.

He said they face tough challenges, but he vowed that America's Gulf Coast will rebound.

"It's a tough situation on the coast. I have been president long enough to see tough situations and the resilience of the people," Mr. Bush said.

But the path to recovery could be long and hard. It may take weeks before electricity is fully restored. Removing the tons of debris and repairing extensive flood damage will likely take much longer.

Houston remains under a nighttime curfew. And in Galveston - which was in the eye of the storm - there is still no power, no operating sewage system and no functioning hospital.

Most of the residents of the barrier island town heeded calls to evacuate before the storm. President Bush told them to stay away until it is safe to return.

"I know a lot of people are anxious to get back in. I urge you to listen to state and local authorities before you come back," he said.

Emergency officials briefed Mr. Bush on conditions immediately after his arrival in Texas, and he toured the disaster zones by helicopter.

He was told about the thousands of storm victims who remain in shelters, and efforts to keep up with the demand for blankets, food, bottled water and other basic supplies.

The American Red Cross is working with authorities in the Gulf. But after back-to-back hurricanes, it is running short on funds.

As he prepared to inspect the storm damage, the president made a direct appeal for contributions.

"I hope the country does not have disaster fatigue. The Red Cross is a vital part of helping people recover," Mr. Bush said.

The American Red Cross has taken the unusual step of asking Congress for millions of dollars to replenish its disaster relief fund following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The Red Cross operates under a Congressional charter that requires it to respond to natural disasters. However, it is an independent charity and relies primarily on private donations.