On a national day of prayer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina (search), a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers toured the damaged region as New Orleans prepared to let the first people back into the city.
Leading the nation in the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance (search), President Bush said the rebuilding of the devastated Gulf Coast will "measure our unity as a people."
"Our nation remains in the shadow of a storm that departed two weeks ago. We are humbled ... and feel small beside its power," Bush said in remarks Friday at Washington’s National Cathedral. "We mourn with those who mourn and we ask for strength in the work ahead."
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators on Friday led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid toured areas hard-hit by Katrina, including New Orleans. Among the lawmakers on the trip were Louisiana Sens. David Vitter, a Republican, and Mary Landrieu, a Democrat.
"It reminded me of air flights I have taken over battle zones," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told FOX News about flying over the area and seeing the devastation.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., noted that he been coming to New Orleans since he was 18. "I plan to keep coming another 50 years if I can," he said. "I see a lot of stirring around here. I see optimism. I see hope."
'Lonely Pain of People'
Bush was speaking on the day he dedicated as a national day of prayer and remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Bush, the first lady and other national leaders attended the non-denominational service led by spiritual leaders from around the country.
Portions of the service were delivered by faith leaders from: New Orleans, La.; Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Houston and Dallas.
"The destruction is immense,” Bush said. "Yet the hurt always comes down to one life, one family. ... The lonely pain of people whose earthly possessions were swept away and the uncertainly of men and women and children driven away from the lives they knew."
He added: "Our nation joins with them to pray for comfort and sorrow, for the reunion of separated families, and a holy rest for the ones who died."
Bush thanked those who have answered the "cries of neighbors," providing food, water and shelter, but reminded the audience that there was much work ahead.
"The destruction of this hurricane was beyond any human power to control, but the restoration of broken communities and disrupted lives now rests in our hands, and we accept this responsibility not as a burden or chore but as an opportunity to serve our fellow Americans as they would do for us," Bush said.
Bush also repeated a message first delivered Thursday night to the nation from New Orleans (search) — that reconstruction should be used to erase racial and economic inequality.
"As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality," the president said. "One day, Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity, but in character and justice."
To read more about President Bush's plans to rebuild the area, click here.
Prayers Around the Nation
At Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pa., about a dozen people prayed and listened to Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans."
The Rev. James D. Brown said he was struck by the song's last line, "I miss the one I care for more than I miss New Orleans."
"It points to the horrible tragedy and loss on the part of so many," Brown said.
The Rev. Michael Mannion, in a service for 50 people at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, N.J., recalled a story of a missionary family in China told by soldiers to gather a few belongings and leave. The missionaries simply left with their children.
Mannion said Katrina has taught the same lesson.
"The learned what's important. They learned who's important. They learned that it's each other who are important," he said.
Services in areas where displaced Gulf Coast residents fled were expected to be especially emotional. A service was planned Friday night at the Reliant Center in Houston, which had provided sheltered to about 1,500 evacuees.
Cantor Seth Warner of New Orleans, who was uprooted to Houston with his wife and 4-month-old son, planned to attend a special service at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio on Friday night, the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
"I think God is in the soul of those who have been heroes, God is in the midst of those who risked their lives for others, God is in the hearts and minds of those who have given up something so that others can have a little bit, too," he said.
Mayor C. Ray Nagin (search) announced plans Thursday to reopen some of New Orleans' most vibrant and least flood-ravaged neighborhoods over the next week and a half, including the French Quarter. The move could bring back more than 180,000 of the city's half-million inhabitants.
"The city of New Orleans ... will start to breathe again," Nagin said. "We will have life. We will have commerce. We will have people getting into their normal modes of operations and the normal rhythm of the city."
Nagin said the "re-population" of the city would start Monday in Algiers, a Creole-influenced neighborhood across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. The city's Uptown section, which includes the Garden District's leafy streets and antebellum mansions, will reopen in stages next Wednesday and Friday.
The French Quarter will follow on Sept. 26.
Security will be tight in the reopened neighborhoods. Nagin said a dusk-to-dawn curfew will be enforced, and residents and business owners will be required to show ID to get back in.
The neighborhoods that are being reopened have 70 percent to 90 percent of their electricity restored, as well as water for flushing toilets and firefighting, if not drinking. The sewer system works, trash removal is running, and at least two hospitals will be able to provide emergency care, authorities said.
Business owners have been anxiously awaiting the return of electricity, which will bring back the glowing neon signs of the strip clubs and bars on Bourbon Street.
"If we get power, we can bring the dancers in and start working," said Javier Rosado, who's been helping clean the Big Daddy's strip club so it can reopen.
Even though business will not be as it was before the storm, Rosado said, the opportunity to make money still exists in the near-desolate city. "The soldiers keep passing by and asking when we'll open," he said. "I'm sure we'll make money."
Across five Gulf Coast states, the death toll from Katrina climbed Thursday to 794, led by 558 in Louisiana.
Despite the good news from the mayor, large sections of New Orleans remained accessible only by boat, and corpses could still be seen out in the open. In flooded streets near the University of New Orleans' campus, two bodies were seen floating face down, and the decomposed corpse of a woman was sprawled on a church step, her cane lying beside her.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it is getting water pumped out of eastern New Orleans and nearby parishes faster than expected, and most of the area should be dry by the end of this month, about a week earlier than previously estimated.
In another encouraging step, the state Health Department reopened some oyster beds southwest of New Orleans on Friday. Louisiana produces 35 percent of the nation's oysters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.