Bush promises post-storm help for victims
In other storm-related developments:
_The president verbally made emergency disaster declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi. The difference between these declarations and preliminary ones issued over the weekend was that the new declarations allow for the drawdown of federal funds in disaster relief and recovery.
_The American Red Cross said it had thousands of volunteers mobilized for the hurricane. It was the "largest single mobilization that we've done for any single natural disaster," said spokesman Bradley Hague. The organization set up operational headquarters in Baton Rouge.
_The Environmental Protection Agency dispatched emergency crews to Louisiana and Texas because of concern about oil and chemical spills.
_The Coast Guard closed ports and waterways along the Gulf Coast and positioned craft around the area to be ready to conduct post-hurricane search and rescue operations.
_The Agriculture Department said its Food and Nutrition Service will provide meals and other commodities, such as infant formula, distilled water for babies and emergency food stamps.
_The Defense Department dispatched emergency coordinators to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to provide a wide range of assistance including communications equipment, search and rescue operations, medical teams and other emergency supplies.
_The Health and Human Services Department sent 38 doctors and nurses to Jackson, Miss., to be used where needed, and 30 pallets of medical supplies to the region, including first aid materials, sterile gloves and oxygen tanks.
Meanwhile, Brown gave Bush two briefings on the powerful storm, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
"The federal government and the state governments and the local governments will work side-by-side to do all we can to help get your lives back in order," Bush said.
The president was expected to authorize at least a loan of some oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
In a statement, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said, "Beginning last week, we have been in close contact with our federal partners, site managers at various locations of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and companies that operate oil refineries to prepare for any disruption in oil production."
"Over the next few days, we will continue to gain more information on the specific needs and then be able to make a better determination on how we can help," Bodman said.
The Gulf of Mexico is the heart of U.S. oil and natural gas operations, and the storm so far has caused the shutdown of about 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity ¡ª or about 1 million barrels, further driving up gasoline costs.
It was not known how long oil and natural-gas production in the Gulf would be shut down.
If Bush decides to tap the reserves, as he did in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf of Mexico, it would not be designed to put downward pressure on gas prices but to give refineries in the area a temporary supply of crude oil to replace interrupted shipments from tankers or offshore oil platforms affected by the storm.
Some 6,000 National Guard personnel from Louisiana and Mississippi who would otherwise be available to help deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are in Iraq.
Even so, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs, with at least 60 percent of the guard available in each state. He said about 6,500 National Guard troops were available in Louisiana, about 7,000 in Mississippi, nearly 10,000 in Alabama and about 8,200 in Florida.
The First U.S. Army, based at Fort Gillem near Atlanta, has 1,600 National Guard troops who were already there training to go to Iraq, and they will be available to assist the states or evacuate Camp Shelby in Mississippi, if necessary.
According to the Navy, two ships were moved from Pascagoula, Miss., and taken out to sea where they could ride out the storm. Most of the Navy's ships were on the east coast of Florida and were not affected. The Navy also moved dozens of aircraft out of Pensacola, Fla., and sent them to bases in Oklahoma and Texas. Aircraft that were not able to fly were put in hangars.