WASHINGTON - Facing sharp criticism, President Bush toured the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast on Friday and vowed the government will restore order in lawless New Orleans.
He said the $10.5 billion being approved by Congress is just a small downpayment for disaster relief.
"I'm not looking forward to this trip," Bush said as he set out for a firsthand look at the destruction in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
"It's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine," the president said.
Bush began the day at the White House where he expressed unhappiness with the efforts so far to provide food and water to hurricane victims and to stop looting and lawlessness in New Orleans. "The results are not acceptable," said Bush, who rarely admits failure.
The president's comments came after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin lashed out at federal officials, telling a local radio station "they don't have a clue what's going on down here."
Even Republicans were criticizing Bush and his administration for the sluggish relief effort. "I think it puts into question all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?" said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
He urged Bush to name former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as the White House point person for relief efforts. Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., also suggested Giuliani or former Secretary of State Colin Powell or retired Gen. Tommy Franks to take charge of the relief efforts.
In Biloxi, Miss., Bush encountered two weeping women on a street where a house had collapsed and towering trees were stripped of their branches. "My son needs clothes," said Bronwynne Bassier, 23, clutching several trash bags. "I don't have anything."
Smith reports Bush is getting a first-hand look at the damage Katrina did -- and will speak with some of its victims.
"I understand that," Bush said. He kissed both women on their heads and walked with his arms around them, telling them they could get help from the Salvation Army. "Hang in there," he said.
Bush got a warm reception in Mobile from Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Bob Riley of Alabama. Both praised the federal government's response. Still, Barbour said, "We've suffered a grievous blow that we won't recover from for a long while."
Standing with the governors in an airplane hangar, Bush said, "We have a responsibility to clean up this mess."
"What is not working right, we're going to make it right," Bush said. Referring to rampant looting and crime in New Orleans, Bush said, "We are going to restore order in the city of New Orleans."
"The people of this country expect there to be law and order, and we're going to work hard to get it," the president said. "In order to make sure there's less violence, we've got to get food to people."
"We'll get on top of this situation," Bush said, "and we're going to help the people that need help."
Bush was accompanied by Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff. The department, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been accused of responding sluggishly to the deadly hurricane. On the plane ride to Alabama, Bush was briefed on plans for housing the tens of thousands of people displaced by the hurricane.
"There's a lot of aid surging toward those who've been affected. Millions of gallons of water. Millions of tons of food. We're making progress about pulling people out of the Superdome," the president said.
For the first time, however, he stopped defending his administration's response and criticized it. "A lot of people are working hard to help those who've been affected. The results are not acceptable," he said. "I'm heading down there right now."
Bush hoped that his tour of the hurricane-ravaged states would boost the spirits of increasingly desperate storm victims and their tired rescuers, and his visit was aimed at tamping down the ever-angrier criticism that he has engineered a too-little, too-late response.
Four days after Katrina made landfall in southeastern Louisiana, Bush was to get a second, closer look at the devastation wrought by the storm's 145 mph winds and 25-foot storm surge in an area stretching from just west of New Orleans to Pensacola, Fla. In all, there are 90,000 square miles under federal disaster declaration.
Friday's trip follows a 35-minute flyover of the region he took Wednesday aboard Air Force One as he headed back to Washington from his Texas ranch.
While the president was working his way along the coast, his wife, Laura, was scheduled to be nearby in Lafayette, La. Mrs. Bush was to visit the Cajundome arena to console people who took shelter there.
Amid the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, Bush has other problems besides the hurricane: Gasoline prices have soared past $3 a gallon in some places, and support is ebbing for the war in Iraq.
So Bush has tried to respond to Katrina in a way that evokes the national goodwill he cultivated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - and that does not recall the criticism his father, former President Bush, endured after Hurricane Andrew slammed Florida in 1992.
But he began facing questions about his leadership in the crisis almost immediately. New Orleans officials, in particular, were enraged about what they said was a slow federal response.