U.S. President George Bush has dropped plans to travel to his party's national convention so he can focus on Hurricane Gustav. Delegates to the convention, meanwhile, were turning their efforts toward putting together aid packages for hurricane victims. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the convention center in St. Paul, that Mr. Bush skipped the trip to Minnesota to get a first hand look at preparations for the storm.
On the day he was scheduled to go to St. Paul to address the opening day of the convention, the president instead flew toward the Gulf coast. He went to his home state of Texas, about 600 kilometers west of the spot where the hurricane made landfall in Louisiana, to check on preparations for the storm.
The president got a briefing at an emergency operations center in Austin, the Texas capital, and then traveled the short distance to San Antonio, which three years ago served as a major destination for Gulf Coast residents fleeing Hurricane Katrina. That storm devastated the city of New Orleans and large swathes of the Gulf Coast.
The flawed federal response to Katrina was a major embarrassment for the Bush administration, and led to dramatic changes at the government agency responsible for handling natural disasters.
President Bush said the conditions going into the current hurricane season are much improved. "The coordination on this storm is a lot better than during Katrina."
Speaking after a briefing at the Austin emergency center, he said he understands how difficult it was for the people in Gustav's path to evacuate and leave their homes, including many residents of New Orleans who were still rebuilding after Katrina. He urged them not to rush back until authorities are sure it is safe. "It is very important for those who have been evacuated to listen very carefully to the officials in their respective states, before they decide to return. The storm has yet to pass. It is a serious event," he said.
Mr. Bush was accompanied to Texas by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, David Paulison. Paulison emphasized to reporters traveling with the president that the government learned the lessons of Katrina. He made specific mention of the organized evacuation effort designed to empty out New Orleans before Gustav struck, saying anyone who wanted to leave could.
Katrina was one of the worst storms in American history. Nearly 1,600 people were killed, and there was billions of dollars in damage. Gustav appears to be somewhat tamer, but the full extent of damage and casualties is not yet known.
In St. Paul, the Republican Party convention canceled planned speeches for the opening day Monday, and urged delegates to focus their attention on gathering aid for hurricane victims.