WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Bush sent Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA Director David Paulison to southern California Tuesday, as the federal government moved to help the fire-ravaged state.
“All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes and the many families who have been evacuated from their homes," Bush said at the beginning of an address to the National Defense University. "We send our prayers and thoughts for those who have been affected and we send the help of the federal government as well.”
The president spoke late Monday with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and early Tuesday morning Bush declared an emergency for seven counties in the state. He said the order “opens up the opportunity for us to send federal assets to help the governor and those who are fighting these fires."
Bush also said he is sending Chertoff and Paulison to "listen, develop an inventory of supplies and help we can provide."
The Pentagon has set up a plan to help provide shelter for evacuees, and offered a battalion of 800 Marines from Camp Pendleton to help fight fires. The Navy has offered an Aegis cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, and two fast frigates to support evacuation efforts. The federal government has also sent 6 C-130's specially set up to drop water and suppressant on the fires.
The White House was heavily criticized for its response to Hurricane Katrina, but spokesperson Dana Perino said in the wake of the fallout, “Integration, additional communication and cooperation amongst the state, local and federal governments has improved since Katrina. It's one of the things that I think everyone recognized needed to happen after Katrina."
– CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk