...but yes, I've also noticed the silence of countries in giving aide. Maybe once we can get in there and start analyzing the situation better, including knowing how much it's going to cost and how many dead we're talking about, other countries will react and help with the recovery and rebuilding process.
Bush sees hurricane damage from Air Force One
Wed Aug 31, 2005 2:48 PM ET
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's plane swooped low over three states on Wednesday, giving him a somber view of the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina as he returned to Washington to oversee the U.S. government's response.
Air Force One descended to less than 3,000 feet (900 meters) over Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to allow Bush to see some of the worst damage.
At 2,500 feet over New Orleans, the president and his aides could see the skin of the Superdome roof peeled back by the storm's fury.
"It's totally wiped out," Bush remarked as the modified Boeing 747 moved east past Slidell, a Louisiana community reduced to a pile of rubble and sticks.
"It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground," Bush said, according to his spokesman Scott McClellan.
Bush, who cut short a vacation in Texas and may visit the stricken region later this week, saw a causeway in pieces, boats stranded on highways, and mile after mile of houses surrounded by water all the way up to the roofs.
"There wasn't a whole lot of conversation," McClellan said. "It's very sobering to see from the air ... I think at some point you are just kind of shaking your head in disbelief."
Following a video conference with senior government officials, Bush left his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and was flying back to the White House to monitor the massive recovery effort after Katrina cut her swathe of death and destruction.
When Bush arrives, he will lead a meeting with representatives of 14 federal agencies involved in the recovery and cleanup, including the Departments of Energy, Interior and Health and Human Services.
The Pentagon on Wednesday added warships, including two helicopter assault vessels and the hospital ship Comfort, along with elite search units to the relief effort. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the administration would release supplies from the federal petroleum reserves to help refiners affected by the hurricane.
Although aides have long said that Bush can run the White House from his 1,600-acre (650-hectare) ranch where he has full secure communications capabilities, the president decided it was better to return to Washington, according to McClellan.
"There are people who are suffering, who are in need," he said. "The issue was the president felt it was best to get back to Washington to oversee the response efforts from there." Bush had been scheduled to end his month-long vacation on Friday.
One of the most severe storms ever to hit the United States, Katrina killed more than 100 people with the toll certain to go higher as authorities struggle to count the dead, save low-lying New Orleans and tally the catastrophic destruction.
Analysts have estimated the damage to be at least $26 billion.
Bush is expected to visit the ravaged Gulf Coast region later, perhaps on Saturday. The White House is sensitive to the disruption presidential visits can cause and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour advised them to hold off on coming too soon.
The Bush administration is putting together an aid package to help with the hurricane's aftermath, but McClellan said needs had to be assessed before a dollar figure could be attached to it.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency already has $2.5 billion on hand from last year's appropriations. In addition, $2.14 billion has been requested for fiscal year 2006 that starts on October 1.
The U.S. military weighed in with major assets as the Army Corps of Engineers worked to help civilian engineers in New Orleans close a major break in a protective levee that flooded the tourist city two days after Katrina ripped ashore.
More than 8,200 part-time National Guard troops have been mobilized by governors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida for duties from police work to providing water and electric generators.
The big Navy hospital ship Comfort was preparing to depart Baltimore and the helicopter carrier USS Bataan and another warship were already conducting rescue missions from off the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.
The USS Iwo Jima, another helicopter assault ship, was preparing to sail from Norfolk, Virginia, with three other vessels and arrive in five days, the Navy said.