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Bush tells victims: 'A lot of help coming'

Cabinet-level task force will coordinate relief efforts

President Bush speaks to the nation from the Rose Garden outside the White House Wednesday.


George W. Bush
Oil and Gas
Hurricane Katrina

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush sought Thursday to reassure victims of Hurricane Katrina that the federal government was doing its best to send aid to the thousands of displaced and stranded people.

"I understand the anxiety of people on the ground," Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America." "... But I want people to know there's a lot of help coming."

Bush said he would visit the affected areas, but the trip was still being coordinated.

Bush surveyed Katrina's destruction from Air Force One on his way from Crawford, Texas, to Washington Wednesday.

Back at the White House, he announced a massive federal mobilization to help victims of the storm, but said recovery "will take years."

"We're dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history," Bush said in an address from the Rose Garden, surrounded by members of his Cabinet. "I can't tell you how devastating the sights were."

"The folks on the Gulf Coast are going to need the help of this country for a long time. This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented, but there's no doubt in my mind that we're going to succeed." (Transcript)

He told communities affected by the storm, "The country stands with you" and pledged, "We'll do all in our power to help you."

Bush announced that he has created a Cabinet-level task force to coordinate hurricane relief efforts across federal agencies, headed by Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, will be in charge of the federal response on the ground in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The White House also announced Wednesday that Bush has asked his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton to spearhead an international relief effort for hurricane victims, similar to the effort they undertook for victims of last year's tsunami in South Asia.

Bush said the federal government's first priority is to rescue those still trapped and provide medical assistance. FEMA, the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense have sent resources to help with the search-and-rescue effort, he said.

The federal government also will use more than 400 trucks from the Department of Transportation to bring food, water and supplies to those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, and plans are being made to provide housing, education and health care for the displaced, he said.

The president said the federal government would also undertake a "comprehensive recovery effort" to rebuild devastated communities and restore infrastructure, including roads and bridges wiped out by Katrina, an effort he said would take years.

"Right now, the days seem awfully dark for those affected. I understand that," he said. "But I'm confident that, with time, you'll get your life back in order. New communities will flourish. The great city of New Orleans will be back on its feet. And America will be a stronger place for it."

Bush also braced the country for a coming surge in energy prices in the wake of the destruction Katrina wrought on oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Department of Energy is releasing supplies from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to limit disruptions of supplies to oil refineries, which "will help take some pressure off of gas prices," and the Environmental Protection Agency has waived rules requiring low-pollution blends in some areas in order to increase availability of gas and diesel, he said.

"But our citizens must understand this storm has disrupted the capacity to make gasoline and distribute gasoline," the president said.

On the return trip from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Air Force One flew over the Gulf Coast.

As the president passed over one Mississippi town, he remarked, "It's totally wiped out."

The president spent 35 minutes looking out the window as the aircraft passed over Louisiana and Mississippi and saw the damaged roof of the New Orleans Superdome and the city's flooded neighborhoods.

The president's plane flew about 2,500 feet over New Orleans and about 1,700 feet over Mississippi.

"It's devastating. It's got to be doubly devastating on the ground," Bush said.

CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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