- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

President Bush is cutting his vacation short by two days and returning to Washington today to coordinate the federal government’s response to the devastation inflicted on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina.

Congressional leaders, meanwhile, will be ready to pass any supplemental bill to pour more aid into the ravaged states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama shortly after Congress returns next week from its summer recess.

“Our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens along the Gulf Coast who have suffered so much from Hurricane Katrina,” Mr. Bush said before a speech yesterday in San Diego. “These are trying times for the people of these communities.”

Mr. Bush said, “Federal, state and local governments are working side by side to do all we can to help people get back on their feet, and we have got a lot of work to do.

“Our teams and equipment are in place, and we’re beginning to move in the help that people need.”

Mr. Bush declared the states in Katrina’s path disaster areas before the storm made landfall, enabling the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Coast Guard and other federal agencies to get into position to help immediately.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush, who had planned to leave his Crawford, Texas, ranch Friday, will participate in a conference call with federal officials this morning and be back at the White House by late afternoon.

Mr. Bush will lead a White House task force meeting on the response efforts to the hurricane damage, Mr. McClellan said, which will involve more than a dozen government agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Energy, and Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Congressional leaders were quick to offer their condolences for those suffering in Katrina’s wake, and pledged a quick, bipartisan effort to pass an emergency supplemental spending bill to pay for the region’s recovery.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he “will closely monitor the relief effort, working with the administration and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee to see what federal aid is needed and how best to deliver it.”

“My prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones to this devastating force,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Jenny Manley, spokeswoman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, said she expects the committee “and the full Senate will be quick to respond to any request for funding that is received” from Mr. Bush.

“I think it is important to note that FEMA is working first and foremost on search and rescue,” Miss Manley said. “The situation in Mississippi is too much of a danger zone to do anything other than attempt to save lives right now.

“Once the situation is more stable, they will begin the process of doing a damage assessment,” she said.

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