President Bush heads to America's Gulf Coast Friday for a first hand look at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bush is spending most of his time these days dealing with the aftermath of the storm, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

The president will tour hurricane-ravaged communities in three states: Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. He will view the damage by air and, when possible, on the ground. Aides say to expect several stops, including the flooded city of New Orleans.

Mr. Bush has already called it one of the greatest natural disasters in American history, and he has acknowledged it might take years for the Gulf Coast region to recover.

The president says the government is undertaking a massive relief effort, but stresses there is plenty the private sector can do. He appeared at the White House with his father, former President George Bush, and former President Bill Clinton. They will reprise the role they played after the Indian Ocean tsunami, when they raised about a billion dollars for relief efforts.

"In the days ahead the former presidents will ask Americans to open their hearts and wallets to help those in need," he said.

Earlier, the president consulted with his advisers about the economic impact of the storm as they prepared to send an emergency budget request to Congress. He also conferred with Alan Greenspan, the head of America's central bank.

His discussions with the Federal Reserve chairman centered largely on the affect the storm has had on the price and availability of gasoline in the United States. The damage caused to oil refineries and rigs along the Gulf Coast is already translating into much higher gasoline prices for many Americans. The president urged patience and asked the public to conserve until adequate supplies are restored.

"We view this storm as a temporary disruption that is being addressed by the government and by the private sector," said President Bush.

President Bush also said he has temporarily waived a law which restricts shipping between American ports to U.S. ships. He said foreign tankers will now be able to help distribute oil and gasoline to places where supplies are needed.