WASHINGTON – Laura Bush (search) said Tuesday she is worried that Americans could turn away from the staggering need in the Gulf Coast before the effort to recover from Hurricane Katrina is done.
"That's going to be the hard part for everyone, and that is to sustain the amount of help that evacuees are getting to do the long, long hard work that's going to be required," Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's particularly hard for Americans, because we're so impatient and we think that everything ought to be fixed yesterday."
The first lady sat down in the White House's stately Map Room to promote this weekend's National Book Festival, a daylong event on the National Mall that she has put on in concert with the Library of Congress for five years.
The festival has an added attraction this year: "Book Relief," a joint project between the Library of Congress and the nonprofit First Book to gather 5 million books to give to storm evacuees, libraries and schools in the hurricane region.
"It's going to be really important as we rebuild these schools on the Mississippi Coast and in New Orleans to make sure their libraries are rebuilt better and stocked even better than they were before," Bush said.
Amid criticism of a slow, ineffective early response to Hurricane Katrina, its aftermath has consumed the attention of the White House. As the first lady spoke, President Bush was preparing to leave for his fifth trip to the region — with a sixth scheduled for the weekend. The first lady herself has been to the area four times, one alongside her husband. Both are expected to maintain that travel pace and level of engagement for the foreseeable future.
"He has to. That's his job," Mrs. Bush said of her husband. "That's what happens when you run for president, you don't know what might happen like this."
She also said she hoped that the hurricane would provoke the nation to tackle "in a different way" the poverty and racial inequality of the region that was exposed in the hurricane's mostly black and poor victims. Crucial areas are improving education, addressing the serious housing shortages that bedevil the poor and providing job training, she said.
"A large percentage of our population probably doesn't realize what inner cities are really like and has looked away from that," Bush said. "If a large number of people can come out with skills that they didn't have before, that will be one silver lining."