LAKE CHARLES, La. – President Bush flew over the largely obliterated Louisiana town of Cameron and circled an offshore oil rig in his first up-close look at the devastation that Hurricane Rita (search) brought to the Gulf Coast's oil producing and refining communities.
"This area's hurting," Bush said before an hour-long helicopter tour over the debris-strewn communities along the Texas-Louisiana border where Rita blew ashore. "I saw firsthand how it's hurting."
Bush saw flattened and flooded homes, hundreds of downed trees, extensive roof damage and dozens of stranded and wandering cows. He flew over utility towers that had been knocked over, a Blockbuster video store with windows knocked into the parking lot, a power company worker making repairs and a riverboat washed halfway up onto muddy ground.
It was Bush's seventh visit to the Gulf in the aftermath of the two hurricanes that brought widespread damage here in less than a month, but it was his first personal look at the area hit by Rita.
The tour started over Beaumont (search), Texas, where the president flew above a flooded oil refinery and police roadblocks set up to keep residents out of town. Three trucks hauling trailer homes brought new housing to the evacuated city.
The worst damage was in Cameron, population 1,900, where an estimated 80 percent of the buildings were leveled. Marine One (search), Bush's helicopter, circled the town, then headed south over the Gulf of Mexico so the president could examine the offshore rig.
Bush landed at the airport in Lake Charles (search) in front of a severely damaged hangar holding an Air Force plane. The roof and the doors had caved in, spilling insulation over the floor and the plane.
Bush was briefed in Beaumont on Texas' response to the storm. He got another report from Louisiana officials after landing in Lake Charles.
Bush said his priorities were to assist people with food and water, restore power and provide fuel. "We fully understand that it's hard to maintain order if you don't have fuel for your cars and first responders," the president said, standing alongside Texas Gov. Rick Perry (search) in Beaumont.
The area visited by Bush is home to refineries that turn oil into gasoline, many of which were knocked out of power by the storm.
Bush has asked America to conserve gasoline by driving less and has directed federal workers to cut back on unnecessary travel. White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said the president has directed the White House staff to conserve energy by turning up thermostats, shutting down computers, faxes and copy machines after hours, using public transportation or car pools and reducing nonessential travel by relying more heavily on video conferencing.
Bush also has asked that his motorcade be scaled back, his spokesman said, and it was slightly shorter than normal upon his arrival in Texas. The multiple-vehicle caravan carried Bush from his presidential jet to a nearby airport terminal for his meeting with Texas officials.