WASHINGTON – President Bush saw firsthand some of the long supply lines that Hurricane Wilma (search) caused this week as he visited Florida on Thursday. But some of the thousands of people displaced by the 21st major storm of the season seemed happy to see him.
About 50 people lined up for lunch distribution service across the street from the First Baptist Church in Pompano Beach cheered as Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (search) walked to the food line.
The Bush brothers thanked volunteers for their service before wading into the crowd, where they talked to people, hugging some of them, shaking hands with others, posed for pictures and signed autographs.
The president said steady progress is being made toward the state's recovery.
"Things don't happen instantly, but things are happening. Right here on this site, people are getting fed. Soon, more and more houses will have their electricity back on, and life will get back to normal," Bush told reporters.
Roughly 2 million homes and businesses were without power in Florida. Bush said 6,000 out-of-state workers have come to Florida to help get the electricity restored. The president said many of the complaints he heard have been about the lack of gasoline for vehicles. Gasoline can't be pumped because of the lack of electricity.
"I know a lot of people are frustrated because they don't have power on yet, but I've been told by Jeb and others that there are at least 6,000 people from out of state working with their power people here in state to get people's lines up as quick as possible," Bush said.
Bush said he was assured that water and ice are available and portable electric generators are being distributed in Pompano Beach as quickly as they are arriving.
After taking heavy criticism in the days after Hurricane Katrina (search) for not appearing publicly soon enough, Bush has made many appearances in storm-stricken areas in this record-breaking storm season. This was the president's first visit to Florida since Wilma struck on Monday.
"The federal government, working with the state and local governments, are responding as best as we possibly can," the president said, adding that he came to Florida "to make sure the federal response dovetails in with the state efforts."
On Wednesday, Jeb Bush asked residents to take any aim at him for failures, though, not the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"If anybody wants to blame anybody, let them blame me. Don't blame FEMA. This is our responsibility, and we are doing a good job," he said.
After his tour of the damaged town of Pompano Beach (search), Bush took a 15-minute flight back to Florida International University, home to the National Hurricane Center (search), whose meteorologists likely won't have time to relax until after the official hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.
Although he was hundreds of miles away from the nation's capital, Bush was peppered with reporters' questions about Beltway politics, including Thursday's surprise announcement that Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination to the Supreme Court. He declined to answer any questions about Miers or any new names under consideration.