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8-30-05 - President Bush will cut short his vacation to return to Washington on Wednesday, two days earlier than planned, to help monitor federal efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, the White House said Tuesday.
"We have got a lot of work to do," Bush said, referring to the damage wrought by the hurricane along Gulf Coast areas.
The president had been scheduled to return to the nation's capital on Friday, after spending more than four weeks operating from his ranch in Central Texas. But after receiving a briefing early Tuesday on the devastation Katrina unleashed, the president decided that he needed to be in Washington to personally oversee the federal effort, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Bush had traveled here to deliver a speech commemorating the Allies' World War II victory over Japan and promoting his war-on-terror agenda. Later Tuesday, he was flying back to Texas, but spending only one night at his ranch. Bush was expected to visit the region affected by Katrina by week's end, but details on that trip were in flux as the White House worked to make sure the president would not disrupt response efforts.
The president said that the urgent need for search-and-rescue operations put the priority on saving lives _ and made it necessary for people who evacuated the region to stay out for now.
"This morning, our hearts and prayers are with our fellow citizens along the Gulf Coast," Bush told Navy sailors and World War II veterans, the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier at his back. "We know that many are anxious to return to their homes. It's not possible at this moment."
Instead, he asked all in the affected areas to do as state and local authorities say.
"The federal, state and local governments are working together side-by-side to help people get back on their feet," he said.
The president asked individual Americans to get involved with the relief effort, suggesting anyone who wishes to help could call 1-800-HELPNOW, log on to the Red Cross Web site at https://http://www.redcross.org or get in touch with the Salvation Army.
"The good folks in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and other affected areas are going to need the help and compassion and prayers of our fellow citizens," Bush said.
Upon Bush's return Wednesday, he planned to chair a meeting of a White House task force set up to coordinate the federal response and relief effort, McClellan said.
"This is one of the most devastating storms in our nation's history. I think that's becoming clear to everyone," McClellan said. "The destruction and loss of life is very sobering."
On the Net:
American Red Cross: https://http://www.redcross.org
Salvation Army: 1-800-SAL-ARMY or http://www.salvationarmyusa.org