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Bush tells displaced: 'A lot of help coming'

President asks Americans to restrict gasoline usage

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George W. Bush
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Hurricane Katrina

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush sought Thursday to reassure victims of Hurricane Katrina that the federal government is 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."

Congress will reconvene early from its summer recess either late Thursday or Friday to pass a $10 billion hurricane relief bill, according to House and Senate sources.

Bush asked his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton to spearhead relief efforts for victims of the storm, the White House said Thursday.

The former presidents also have been leading efforts to generate relief for the victims of the tsunami that devastated Asia last winter.

Friday the president will have a close-up look at the devastation when he visits areas hardest hit by the hurricane, including the Alabama and Mississippi coasts and New Orleans, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Bush said his trip to the affected areas was still being coordinated.

President Bush also said Thursday he views Hurricane Katrina's impact on the nation's energy infrastructure on the Gulf Coast to be "temporary," and urged Americans not to hoard supplies.

"Americans should be prudent in their use of energy during the course of the next few weeks," he told reporters at the White House. "Don't buy gas if you don't need it."

Bush said he discussed the impact with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan over lunch. "In our judgment, we view this storm as a temporary disruption that is being addressed by the government and by the private sector," the president said.

Bush noted that the secretary of the Department of Energy has approved tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and a temporary waiver of fuel formulation requirements, announced Wednesday, that will allow the sale of fuels typically permitted only during the cooler months.

Bush said federal authorities were also working with major oil companies to repair the refineries and pipelines that were damaged and shut during the storm, but noted that supplies will be tight.

"The good folks must understand that major refineries have been shut down, which means it is going to be hard to get gas to some markets," he said. "We're going to have a temporary disruption of gasoline product."

The president 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." (Watch report on the desperate conditions at the convention center -- 2:54)

"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. (Watch Chertoff detail how the government plans to aid relief efforts -- 5:03)

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 federal government also will use more than 400 trucks from the Department of Transportation to take 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."

CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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