From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush spent the day getting a handle on the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, meeting with advisers to sort through the suffering, the damage and the cost the storm will inflict on the US economy. In midafternoon, the president spoke from the Oval Office, flanked by his two predecessors, Bill Clinton and the first President Bush. Both have agreed again to spearhead private fund-raising to pay for cleanup and recovery, as they did last winter after the South Asian tsunami. The White House is seeking to reassure people on the Gulf Coast that relief is coming while also stressing that the recovery will be long and difficult. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The disaster along the Gulf of Mexico and in New Orleans presents a huge challenge for this White House. Frustration is growing on the ground as thousands and thousands of displaced people search for somewhere to go and as a huge chunk of the country goes through another day without food and clean water, without security or basic services. President Bush, in a rare television interview this morning, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that help is coming and people need to be patient.

(Soundbite of "Good Morning America")

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, there's a lot of food on its way, a lot of water on the way and there's a lot of boats and choppers headed that way--or boats and choppers headed that way. It just takes a while to float them.

GONYEA: Asked about complaints that these moves should have been made sooner, on the day after the storm, Mr. Bush responded...

(Soundbite of "Good Morning America")

Pres. BUSH: Well, I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday. I mean, I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. I just can't imagine what it's like to be waving a sign that says, `Come and get me now.' So there is frustration.

But I want people to know there's a lot of help coming. I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm, but these levees got breached, and as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded, and now we're having to deal with it and will.

GONYEA: The White House today also responded to those who have said federal budget cuts forced the scaling back of flood-control projects the Army Corps of Engineers already had under way. Press secretary Scott McClellan denied that.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): This is not a time to get into any finger-pointing or politics or anything of that nature; this is a time to make sure all our resources available are focused where they need to be.

GONYEA: Speaking in the Oval Office this afternoon, the president was joined by two former presidents, his father and Bill Clinton. They've agreed to reprise their successful campaign to raise private donations as they did after the South Asian tsunami. Now with the domestic disaster at hand and President Bush facing a complicated recovery effort, he's calling on his two immediate predecessors in the office to underscore the importance of the challenge.

The president's day was full of hurricane-related activity. He met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the morning. He spoke with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency about teams deployed to the Gulf Coast. He had lunch with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to get his take on Katrina's economic fallout. Mr. Bush also met with his economic advisers and afterwards said that the sudden spike in gasoline prices this week should be temporary.

Pres. BUSH: We've taken immediate steps to address the issue. The secretary of Energy is approving loans of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The EPA has provided a temporary nationwide waiver for fuel requirements so supplies of gasoline can move more easily within our country and so that we can attract more gasoline from overseas.

GONYEA: And the president stressed major oil companies are working to get refineries knocked out by Katrina back online. Though there are no estimates as to how long that will take or when prices will begin to come back down, he asked Americans not to buy gas if they don't need it. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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