Bush Returns to Texas After Hurricane Ike
WASHINGTON – President Bush said that people displaced by Hurricane Ike need to listen to local officials before returning home.
He also is asking Americans to donate to the recovery effort, warning against "disaster fatigue" in the nation.
Bush spoke to reporters Tuesday from Houston, his first stop on a daylong trip through Texas' most storm-battered areas. He landed at Ellington Field to sunny skies, and was briefed on Ike and its aftermath inside a U.S. Coast Guard hangar before taking a helicopter tour of the damage.
Bush next visits Galveston, where Ike made landfall on Saturday as Category 2 storm.
FEMA director David Paulison says the rescue phase is winding down. Officials are now focusing on providing blankets, tarps, water and ice to victims.
Before making his third trip in two weeks to survey U.S. Gulf Coast hurricane damage, Bush said he fully expected to meet plenty of frustrated people when he got to Texas.
"My message will be that we hear you, and we'll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal," the president said.
Galveston and Houston are the two Texas cities hit hardest by Hurricane Ike. The presidential trip takes the place of a fundraising swing he had planned for the day through Topeka, Kansas, and Fort Worth, Texas; those duties are being performed instead by first lady Laura Bush.
While in Texas, Bush planned to survey damage, talk to people affected by the storm and assess the government's response so far. He is scheduled to receive briefings from local officials in the two cities, and take a helicopter tour of Ike-damaged areas.
The main needs for people in the storm zone are food, water and ice. More than 2 million in Texas alone lack power and could face weeks before the lights come back on.
"People are working hard," the president said Monday after a briefing from top administration officials about the storm and its aftermath. "There's crews coming in from around the country to help."
Ike battered the Texas and Louisiana coasts on Saturday, coming ashore at Galveston as a strong Category 2 with 110 mph (177 kph) winds, before striking Houston and slogging across the U.S. midsection. The eye missed the center of Houston, but destroyed much in places like the resort barrier island of Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston. The death toll reached 40 and many thousands are facing weeks in shelters.
Bush said Monday that disruptions to energy supplies are one of his prime concerns, because the hurricane's toll on refineries and pipelines is creating "an upward pressure on price" on already expensive costs at the gasoline pump.
"There's going to be a pinch," he said. "I wish it wasn't the case, but it is."
Bush noted the damage to infrastructure was extensive, but still not as bad as some had predicted.
Ike missed the largest concentrations of oil and gas refineries. But at least 14 Texas refineries closed before the storm made landfall, removing more than 20 percent of the nation's petroleum refining capacity. Ike also destroyed at least a dozen production platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico — though only a tiny fraction of those there — and production is still shut down in the critical region.
Two major pipelines are up and running again, and power has been restored to a number of massive refineries. But it may be several weeks before the nation's refining capacity is restored.
Earlier this month, Bush scrapped an opening-night speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, to fly instead to emergency command centers in Texas just as Hurricane Gustav hit. He returned to the region later that week to visit Louisiana.