After flying at 1,700 feet over the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina yesterday, a grim President Bush returned to the White House from his vacation in Texas to tell the nation that the recovery from one of the nation's worst natural disasters "will take years."
"This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges we face are unprecedented. But there is no doubt in my mind we will succeed," he said.
Faced with the worst national crisis since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the White House vowed it will ask Congress for money to help the thousands of victims along the Gulf Coast, although nobody knows yet how many billions of dollars will be needed.
Surrounded by members of his Cabinet after an emergency meeting, Bush said the Coast Guard had rescued nearly 2,000 people and that the Defense Department had sent planes, ships, helicopters and the Navy's hospital ship Comfort to the region, reports Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
According to Guardian, the White House said last night that it expected the hurricane's long-term effects to be small, unless higher oil prices derailed the economy. Preliminary estimates by insurers put the cost of the damage at at least $30bn (Ј17bn).
Mr Bush's decision made only a marginal dent in oil prices because the problem in the US in recent months has been a lack of refining capacity to turn crude oil into petrol and diesel.
While the price of crude edged back to just below $70 yesterday, wholesale petrol prices were up 20 cents a gallon to a record $2.68 in response to the shutdown of nine refineries on the Gulf coast.
"It is now appropriate to talk of a major energy crisis after Hurricane Katrina pushed US energy markets beyond the edge," Barclays Capital said in a report.
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The Mississippi River basin is home to a tenth of the country's oil refineries, churning out 1.8m barrels a day, as well as to ports that handle large imports of grain and fruits and warehouses that stock a quarter of US coffee supply.
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