Bush said he wants the people of Southern California to hear a message loud and clear from Washington.
"Americans all across this land care deeply about them," Bush said after a Cabinet meeting convened to coordinate federal efforts. "We're concerned about their safety. We're concerned about their property."
Bush had already declared a federal emergency on Tuesday for seven California counties, triggering short-term federal help. On Wednesday, responding to a late-night request from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bush went a step further and issued the broader major disaster declaration.
Such declarations set in motion long-term federal recovery programs, some requiring matches from state coffers, to help state and local governments, families, individuals and certain nonprofit organizations recover. The assistance varies from direct aid for uninsured losses to help with rebuilding infrastructure.
At the Cabinet meeting, Bush and top administration officials heard from Federal Emergency Management Agency chief David Paulison and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Bush had dispatched the two to the region on Tuesday and they gave the group an update from there.
"I believe the effort is well-coordinated," Bush told reporters at the end of the meeting. "I know we're getting the manpower and assets on the ground that have been requested by the state and local governments."