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Gov. Bush part of disaster delegation

President Bush asks his brother to draw on his hurricane experience and assess the damage.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
Published December 31, 2004

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TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush will travel to Asia on Sunday as a representative of the White House to survey the devastation caused by the tsunamis and assess the need for increased U.S. assistance.

The governor was chosen by his brother, President Bush, because of his experience with the four hurricanes that caused extensive damage to Florida in 2004. He will serve as co-chairman of a U.S. delegation with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The White House issued a statement Thursday citing Gov. Bush's "extensive experience in the state of Florida with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts following natural disasters." The statement said the group will "assess what additional aid can be provided by the United States."

"The president asked him to go," said the governor's spokeswoman, Alia Faraj. "He's honored to be part of this mission."

Faraj said President Bush phoned his brother in Miami on Thursday and asked him to make the trip.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the selection of the governor "signifies the high level of importance that the president puts on this delegation."

The death toll from the tsunamis and the earthquake that triggered them has climbed to more than 117,000.

The visit by the second-term Florida governor comes amid growing worldwide criticism that the U.S. response to the tsunamis has been too slow and too little.

The U.S. has pledged $35-million in cash assistance, and Duffy said the president is satisfied that international coalitions are coming together to address the tragedy. Millions of people are without food or water.

The itinerary will be determined by the State Department, and the White House did not say how long the tour would last. Several countries are under consideration for visits, including Indonesia and Thailand, a senior administration official said.

Florida, a diverse state with a large immigrant population, has many residents with ties to the devastated area. Sri Lanka's ambassador to the U.S. is Pinellas County resident Devinda Subasinghe, a former vice president of Raymond James Financial Services.

"We are a small country with modest means," Subasinghe said Thursday in an interview on PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. "This is nothing like we've ever dealt with - not a drought, not a flood. It's a massive wave that's hit 70 percent of our coastal area."

More than 27,000 people are reported dead on Sri Lanka, and as many as 1-million people are homeless. The island nation has a population of about 20-million and is about the size of West Virginia.

The governor just ended a three-day vacation in the southwest Florida resort town of Boca Grande, a favorite Bush family destination for many years. He played golf and fished for snook and redfish with his parents, former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, and President Bush's two daughters, Jenna and Barbara.

Since the middle of August, Gov. Bush has worked on a daily basis to help Floridians cope with the havoc left by hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. The storms caused the deaths of 117 people and more than $42-billion in damage.

Thousands of Floridians are still without homes. Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key are expected to reopen to the public Sunday, 31/2 months after Ivan made landfall Sept. 16.

Times researcher Deirdre Morrow contributed to this report, which used information frmo the Associated Press.

[Last modified December 31, 2004, 00:20:19]

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