- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

ENTERPRISE, Ala. (AP) — President Bush yesterday hugged people in the South who survived killer tornadoes and he mourned those who died in the storms.

“Out of this rubble will emerge a better tomorrow,” Mr. Bush said.

He climbed over piles of concrete, roofing, insulation, broken glass and textbooks at shattered Enterprise High School, where eight students died in Thursday’s storm.

“Today I have walked through devastation that is hard to describe,” the president said, standing with students. “A hundred kids got out of here alive, which is a miracle.”

During the visit, Mr. Bush designated Coffee County a disaster area, releasing federal dollars for recovery and individual assistance. His disaster relief chief came along for a firsthand look at the damage so he could make quick recommendations to the White House on requests for help from Washington.

The trip, quickly put together Friday, was intended to highlight Mr. Bush’s administration’s stepped-up efforts, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in particular, to help disaster victims. The White House came under withering criticism for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In this southeastern corner of Alabama, the tornado injured 50 persons and damaged or destroyed about 370 homes among the 22,000 residents.

On the second leg of his visit, Mr. Bush toured Americus, Ga., about 120 miles south of Atlanta, where storms killed two persons and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. A tornado smashed into Sumter Regional Hospital, filling it with glass, dirt and debris and flooding two operating rooms. It was deemed unsafe for its 100 patients.

Mr. Bush spoke of the need to make sure some storm victims do not fall through the cracks.

“The best help they can get is when a citizen comes and builds them a house,” the president said in the hospital parking lot, appealing for volunteers to help in the recovery. “The minute you find out you don’t have what you need, if you put out a call to the country, this country will respond.”

It was not clear what areas besides Coffee County will be eligible for federal disaster aid. FEMA chief R. David Paulison said that would be determined based on whether the damage was bad enough that local and state resources couldn’t respond adequately without federal help.

“With the system we used in the past, we were waiting for a local community to become overwhelmed before the state steps in and waiting for the state to become overwhelmed before the federal government steps in,” Mr. Paulison said. “That doesn’t work. We have to go in as partners.”

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