Bush Tours Ravaged Gulf Coast

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President Bush flew from Washington, D.C., to again visit the coastal areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. An estimated 500,000 people have been displaced and left homeless by the storm.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Bush made his second trip to the Gulf Coast in four days. The tour comes amid intense criticism of his administration's handling of the crisis. He pledged long-term support, but the visit underscored tensions between the administration and state and local officials. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The president's first stop was Baton Rouge where Air Force One landed this morning. He immediately boarded his motorcade, which pulled up in front of the Bethany World Prayer Center where a large multipurpose room has been converted into a shelter. The president spoke briefly with a small pool of reporters traveling with him.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: America can be proud of the efforts of the churches and synagogues and mosques and community organizations that are helping these people. And this is a long-term project to help these people and this country is going to be committed to doing what it takes to help people get back on their feet. And that's why I've come back to this state and that's why I'm going to Mississippi.

GONYEA: Today's travel to Louisiana and Mississippi follows visits to the region by several high-ranking administration officials over the holiday weekend. The White House says these visits are a chance to monitor the situation up close and to provide human comfort to victims as well as thanks and encouragement to relief workers. But the visits are also designed to counter a chorus of complaints that the administration reacted far too slowly to the tragedy, that lives were lost because the response was disorganized and lacked urgency. Over the weekend the White House seemed to be trying to shift blame to officials closer to the scene, such as Louisiana's governor, saying steps were not taken on the state level that would have allowed the federal government to get involved sooner. Such comments triggered outrage from state officials in Louisiana. Today the president did not make any such claims.

Pres. BUSH: So long as anybody's life is in danger we got work to do. That's why I want people to be assured we're going to do it. And--but remember, this is a project that's not only deal with the immediate. We're going to have to deal with the long term as well. Immediate needs are being taken care of right here.

GONYEA: The governor of Louisiana, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, says she was not invited by the president to accompany him on his tour of her state today. She tagged along anyway, going to the airport to greet Mr. Bush when he landed. Still, when the president and the governor toured the shelter in Baton Rouge, they mostly kept their distance, going their separate ways and talking to people who found refuge there. From Louisiana the president flew to Poplarville, Mississippi, and eventually back to Washington. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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