CAMERON, La. – Former President George H.W. Bush (search) wrapped up a tour of the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast on Sunday with a helicopter trip over parts of Texas and Louisiana, saying the damage reminded him of last year's Asian tsunami.
Bush's weekend tour of the region concluded with a visit to hard-hit Cameron, La., where, he said, the path of destruction resembled that left by the tsunami.
"The devastation is similar, but when you know a town, know the area, it's different," he said after riding in the open back of a large military cargo truck. "It's made a profound impact on me."
Bush got a briefing at the courthouse, about the only building still standing in the southwest Louisiana town, sitting in the jury box in a courtroom that has been converted into a command center. It's the only room in town that has power.
Military forces have had to bulldoze debris to clear roads in Cameron, which wound up in the northeast quadrant of Rita and got the worst of the Category 3 storm. Residents are allowed in only on weekends to salvage what they can.
Troops on the streets wear filters over their noses and mouths. The few trees still upright are brown, as is the grass, because of poisoning from saltwater that surged inland.
"The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough," said Freddie Richard (search), director of the emergency operations center. "His visit really has helped the morale around here. I saw a lot of smiling today, and that's something we haven't seen."
People waited in line to shake Bush's hand. Some wiped away tears.
"That he would actually come and see people," said Wanda Trahan (search), 56, her voice breaking. "When he's standing next to you shaking your hand, I have hope. I never in all my life believed I would see the president."
Bush has witnessed the effects of a hurricane on Cameron before. In 1965, Bush's Zapata Corp. lost an oil rig in Hurricane Betsy. He recalled flying in an airplane near Cameron to search for it. Years later, sonar detected some of the wreckage.
"This is where I got my first ulcer," he said.
He commended the community for its strength.
"The thing that gets me is the spirit of the people here," Bush told a group gathered on the courthouse steps. "It's very emotional for me. They're going to fight back. I wish the critics could see what you all are doing."
On Saturday, Bush visited Alabama, Mississippi, and other Louisiana communities.