President Bush, surveying the aftermath of devastating floods during a quick tour Thursday, tried to assure residents and rescuers that he is listening to their concerns and understands their exhaustion.
“Obviously, to the extent we can help immediately, we will help,” said Bush, still mindful of criticism that the federal government reacted slowly to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
“You'll come back better,” Bush said while being briefed by state and local officials at an emergency operations center set up at a community college, part of a three-hour tour. “Sometimes it's hard to see it.”
Bush, his shirt sleeves rolled up, told local officials that he came “just to listen to what you've got on your mind.”
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Noting that several hundred federal emergency workers were fanning across Iowa, he added: “That ought to help the people in the smaller communities know that somebody is there to listen to them.”
He went from there on a helicopter tour that revealed an area that, though mud-caked, was beginning to return to normal. The president then visited Iowa City to the south, chatting with employees of a riverside company used as a staging area for volunteers, propping up spirits at a Red Cross emergency shelter and walking to the water's edge in a flooded-out neighborhood.
FEMA Administrator David Paulison accompanied Bush to Iowa on Air Force One and praised the “great coordination” between federal, state and local leaders.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumed Republican nominee for president, also visited Iowa on Thursday in a tour separate from Bush's. His opponent, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, helped fill sandbags over the weekend in Quincy, Ill.