U.S. President George W. Bush is returning to Washington to oversee the federal response to Hurricane Katrina as aides make arrangements for an expected visit to storm-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast later this week.
Bush cut his monthlong vacation by two days even though aides have long contended that his duties are uninterrupted when he spends time at his ranch in nearby Crawford that has White House-level communications capability, according to the AP.
The president decided he should be in the nation's capital given the magnitude of destruction and death caused by Katrina, one of the most severe storms to ever hit the United States.
"These are trying times for the people of these communities. We know that many are anxious to return to their homes. It's not possible at this moment," the president said Tuesday during a speech in Coronado, California. "Right now our priority is on saving lives, and we are still in the midst of search and rescue operations."
Katrina left thousands homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and many more without electricity or fresh drinking water.
The storm also caused the closure of oil platforms and pipelines in the Gulf Coast, prompting the administration to consider tapping into the nation's emergency petroleum stockpiles. The Energy Department is reviewing a request for a loan from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Bush originally was to return to the White House on Friday, after spending more than four weeks operating from his ranch. But after getting updates on the devastation, he decided to fly back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to personally oversee a massive federal emergency assistance program.