CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush promised a sustained and generous U.S. leadership role in helping the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami Saturday, as his brother and secretary of state head to the ravaged region to assess the damage and report back on what additional U.S. assistance is needed.
“In this season we gather with loved ones and count our many blessings, we hold the victims of this terrible tragedy in our hearts and prayers,” Bush said in his radio address from his ranch here. “And let us be mindful that even in this modern age, our world still requires compassion, tolerance and generosity from each of us.”
Bush signed a proclamation calling for U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff this week to honor the victims, and he encouraged Americans to contribute to the relief effort through the USA Freedom Corps.
“We offer our love and compassion, and our assurance that America will be there to help,” Bush said.
On Friday, Bush increased U.S. aid to $350 million, 10 times the earlier commitment of $35 million.
After some officials criticized Bush for appearing insensitive to the disaster by not speaking publicly about it for three days and offering a relatively small relief package, the president has assumed a leadership role in the global relief, rescue and rebuilding effort and quieted his critics.
Officials say the worldwide response has been unprecedented, with relief agencies reporting nearly $2 billion in pledges from 44 countries.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will travel to the region today to determine what else the United States can do to provide immediate help to victims and longer-term assistance in rebuilding the hardest hit nations.
“Communications, roads and medical facilities have been badly damaged,” Bush said. “Disease has become a very real threat.”
Congress returns this week, and several lawmakers have promised to fight for even more financial assistance than the $350 million.
Some officials expect the U.S. contribution to top $1 billion this month.