Bush promises post-storm help
EL MIRAGE Ariz. – President Bush pledged extensive assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina on Monday and urged those in areas affected to remain safe until the danger “from this devastating storm” passed. The government put into effect a massive emergency assistance program that included rushing baby formula, communications equipment, generators, water and ice into hard-hit areas.Bush also was expected to tap into the nation’s emergency petroleum stockpiles to help refineries affected by the storm, administration officials said. Final details were being worked out, the officials said.The government’s supply – nearly 700 million barrels of oil stored in underground salt caverns along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast – was established to cushion oil markets during energy disruptions.”When the storm passes, the federal government has got assets and resources that we’ll be deploying to help you. In the meantime, America will pray – pray for the health and safety of all our citizens,” Bush said in remarks directed at storm victims. He made the comments during a previously scheduled speech on Medicare at an RV resort here.”Our Gulf Coast is getting hit and hit hard,” Bush said. “I urge the citizens there in the region to continue to listen to the local authorities. Don’t abandon your shelters until you’re given clearance by the local authorities. Take precautions because this is a dangerous storm.”As the storm surged ashore just east of New Orleans on Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had medical teams, rescue squads and groups prepared to supply food and water poised in a semicircle around the city.”I was impressed with the evacuation. Once it was ordered it was very smooth,” FEMA Director Michael Brown said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. With the storm moving north, Brown said he expected to see flooding in Tennessee and the Ohio Valley.In other storm-related developments:-The president verbally made emergency disaster declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi. The difference between these declarations and ones issued in writing over the weekend was that the new declarations allow for the drawdown of federal funds in disaster relief and recovery.-The American Red Cross said it had thousands of volunteers mobilized for the hurricane. It was the “largest single mobilization that we’ve done for any single natural disaster,” said spokesman Bradley Hague. The organization set up operational headquarters in Baton Rouge.-The Environmental Protection Agency dispatched emergency crews to Louisiana and Texas because of concern about oil and chemical spills.-The Coast Guard closed ports and waterways along the Gulf Coast and positioned craft around the area to be ready to conduct post-hurricane search and rescue operations.-The Agriculture Department said its Food and Nutrition Service will provide meals and other commodities, such as infant formula, distilled water for babies and emergency food stamps.-The Federal Aviation Administration said airports were closed in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.; Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Pensacola, Fla., and at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Airlines have moved their equipment away from the stricken areas and canceled all flights, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. Many air traffic control facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were closed.-The Defense Department dispatched emergency coordinators to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to provide a wide range of assistance including communications equipment, search and rescue operations, medical teams and other emergency supplies.Meanwhile, FEMA Director Brown gave Bush two briefings on the powerful storm, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.”I want to thank the governors of the affected regions for mobilizing assets prior to the arrival of the storm, to help citizens avoid this devastating storm,” Bush said.The president was expected to authorize at least a loan of some oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.McClellan said the president was waiting to hear the Energy Department’s recommendation before making a decision. “Obviously, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is there for emergency situations, and that would include natural disasters,” the spokesman told reporters.In a statement, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said, “Beginning last week, we have been in close contact with our federal partners, site managers at various locations of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and companies that operate oil refineries to prepare for any disruption in oil production.””Over the next few days, we will continue to gain more information on the specific needs and then be able to make a better determination on how we can help,” Bodman said.The Gulf of Mexico is the heart of U.S. oil and natural gas operations, and the storm so far has caused the shutdown of about 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity – or about 1 million barrels, further driving up gasoline costs.It was not known how long oil and natural-gas production in the Gulf would be shut down.If Bush decides to tap the reserves, as he did in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf of Mexico, it would not be designed to put downward pressure on gas prices but to give refineries in the area a temporary supply of crude oil to replace of interrupted shipments from tankers or offshore oil platforms affected by the storm.Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs, with at least 60 percent of the guard available in each state. He said about 6,500 National Guard troops were available in Louisiana, about 7,000 in Mississippi, nearly 10,000 in Alabama and about 8,200 in Florida.The First U.S. Army, based at Fort Gillem near Atlanta, has 1,600 National Guard troops who were already there training to go to Iraq, and they will be available to assist the states or evacuate Camp Shelby in Mississippi, if necessary.Vail, Colorado
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