- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

President Bush yesterday declared Sept. 16 a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Hurricane Katrina victims as the White House warned of a “very ugly scene” of death when the floodwaters are drained.

“We have many difficult days ahead, especially as we recover those who did not survive the storm,” Mr. Bush said in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. “I’ve instructed all agencies to honor their memory by treating the dead with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The remarks were part of a concerted effort by the White House to brace Americans for a sharp increase in the number of corpses that emergency workers expect to retrieve as floodwaters are pumped out of New Orleans.

“It’s going to be a very ugly scene,” warned White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “It’s going to be an ugly situation when those floodwaters ultimately recede and we go in and start recovering larger numbers of bodies.”

Mr. Bush continued to resist being drawn into the “blame game” over the government’s initial slow response to the storm.

“Throughout our history, in times of testing, Americans have come together in prayer to heal and ask for strength for the tasks ahead,” he said.

The last time Mr. Bush made such a declaration was four years ago, when he honored the victims of September 11 with a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance three days later. On that day, he gave an emotional speech at the National Cathedral in Washington and visited hardhats at ground zero in New York City.

That visit provided the iconic moment of his presidency — when he stood in the rubble of the World Trade Center and announced through a bullhorn: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

Mr. Bush, who often is accused by his detractors of being overly religious, was unapologetic about his call for prayer yesterday.

“I ask that we pray — as Americans have always prayed in times of trial — with confidence in His purpose, with hope for a brighter future, and with the humility to ask God to keep us strong so that we can better serve our brothers and sisters in need,” he said.

The president also promised victims massive federal aid and vowed to “cut through the red tape so that we get that help into your hands as quickly and easily as possible.”

To that end, Mr. Bush touted his administration’s plan to provide $2,000 debit cards to the heads of households displaced by the storm. He also granted evacuee status to victims to make it easier for them to receive emergency benefits.

Mr. Bush also dispatched Vice President Dick Cheney to tour the Gulf Coast yesterday. First lady Laura Bush visited a school in Mississippi.


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