WASHINGTON - President Bush, who is still criticized for his administration's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, says he will stand with Minnesota residents as they recover from this week's bridge collapse.
The president on Saturday is taking an aerial tour over the I-35W bridge, which buckled Wednesday and sent dozens of cars sliding into the Mississippi River. He will be briefed on recovery efforts and meet with families and victims of the disaster that killed at least five people and injured about 100 others.
"This is a difficult time for the community in Minneapolis, but the people there are decent and resilient, and they will get through these painful hours," Bush said in his Saturday radio address. "As they do, they know that all of America stands with them, and that we will do all we can to help them recover and rebuild."
First lady Laura Bush visited Minneapolis on Friday to survey the wreckage of the bridge as rescue workers continued to search for bodies in the river. "Unbelievable," she said as she stood on a hill beside the eight-lane span, which once carried 141,000 vehicles a day.
As rescue efforts continued, the House and Senate on Friday directed $250 million to rebuild the bridge. But another vote in the House is needed Saturday after the Senate amended the measure to switch the source for some of the money.
The legislation would waive the $100 million federal limit per state for emergency relief funds, but the money itself still needs to be appropriated by Congress in future legislation. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar, suggested more money might ultimately be needed.
Earlier this week, the federal government announced a $5 million grant to help remove tons of debris and reroute traffic from the major artery in and out of the city. And the White House said the president would support the necessary funding to get the span quickly rebuilt.
"This is just the beginning of the financial assistance we will make available to support the state in its recovery efforts," Bush said.
"In times of tragedy, our hearts ache for those who suffer, yet our hearts are also lifted by acts of courage and compassion," Bush said. "We saw those qualities in the residents of a nearby apartment building who rushed to the scene to offer their help. We saw them in the divers who fought the mighty currents of the Mississippi to reach victims. And we saw them in the firefighters who searched car to car for survivors."
Every time a disaster occurs in the United States, the Bush administration's reaction is compared with its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
In March, Bush visited survivors of tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia. In April, he offered words of hope at Virginia Tech after a gunman killed 32 people and committed suicide. In May, Bush went to Kansas after a tornado wiped out the tiny town of Greensburg.