WASHINGTON (AFP) -US President George W. Bush was to tour three southern US states ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, amid criticism of the government”s handling of the response to the disaster.
Bush, who named his father, former president George H.W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton on Thursday to head private fundraising efforts for the storm”s victims, was to make an aerial tour of hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the White House said.
The president was also to make a statement on hurricane recovery efforts at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, it said.
With the devastation drawing comparisons to the September 11 terrorist strikes, the 2004 tsunami in Asia, and even Hiroshima after the atomic bomb, Bush pleaded on Thursday for patience with relief efforts slowed by looting and wrecked infrastructure.
"We all know this is an agonizing time for the people of the Gulf Coast. I ask their continued patience as recovery operations unfold," the president said. "This recovery is going to be a long process."
The US Senate met late Thursday and approved a 10.5 billion dollar emergency spending bill. The House of Representatives was to meet Friday to do the same.
White House budget chief Josh Bolten said the measure would only temporarily quench the region”s thirst for help and that the administration would seek a "better informed" sum in a few weeks.
"The private sector needs to do its part as well," the president said during a brief joint appearance with his predecessor and his father, who raised about one billion dollars for last year”s tsunami victims.
"Once again I”ve asked them to work to help the needs of those who hurt. And once again I”m confident that the American people will respond," said Bush, who came under fire for his early response to the crisis.
Bush saw some of the devastation from his Air Force One airplane as he flew back from Texas Wednesday, having cut two days from his month-long Texas vacation in what some have called a belated response to Katrina.
After meetings with his economic aides and US Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, Bush said that what many were calling the worst natural disaster in US history would cause a "temporary disruption" in gasoline supplies.
The president said efforts were underway to fix major pipelines, and that he had waived restrictions that prevent foreign-flagged ships to transport gasoline between US ports, but that it would not be enough in the short term.
"Steps we”re taking will help address the problem availability but it”s not going to solve it. Americans should be prudent in their use of energy during the course of the next few weeks. Don”t buy gas if you don”t need it," he said.
Earlier, Bush vowed "zero tolerance" for looters and other profiteers and said he would send in more troops if necessary to guard recovery efforts plagued by rising violence, looting and carjackings in New Orleans.
"I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting, price gouging at the gasoline pump or taking advantage of charitable giving, insurance fraud," Bush said in an interview on ABC television.
The president, battling plummeting approval ratings and mounting opposition to his policies in Iraq, fought back against criticism that he waited too long to return to Washington.
"It is a national emergency. And what we need to do as a nation is come together to solve the problem, and not play politics. There will be ample time for politics," said Bush.