Laura Bush visits Ike evacuees

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Bush stood at a food line, passing out boxed dinners of rigatoni and meatballs to a few dozen of the some 600 people spending nights on cots at a former warehouse store that is serving as Red Cross shelter.

The first lady then sat down and chatted with a couple of the evacuees.

"It's sad we've had a lot of experience with disasters," Bush said in brief remarks during about a 40-minute visit. "I just want them to know things are going to be OK."

She also met with Red Cross volunteers, gave them some of the boxed meals and put in a pitch for people to volunteer and send money to the organization. She said the responses of volunteers during disasters consistently are "a wonderful story about the United States."

Refugees are being consolidated from other shelters that close as people return home, Greater Houston Red Cross spokesman Russell Hubbard said.

The shelter Bush visited is in Houston's south side, where power in some neighborhoods was out until days ago and some out-of-commission traffic lights continue to cause traffic snarls.

Some of those now in the shelter are from the hard-hit Bolivar Peninsula, a thin barrier strip of sand across the bay east of Galveston, where Ike's 110 mph winds and 12-foot storm surge leveled nearly everything.

"I just told her what happened," said Sheila Willis, 37, of Bolivar's Crystal Beach. 'I lost my home. It's gone."

She said she initially was nervous about chatting with Bush but didn't feel so nervous when she actually sat down.

"It is comforting," she said of the experience. "How many people in their life can say they sat with the first lady? That was very neat."

When asked if she agreed with Bush that everything would be OK, she replied: "I don't know. I hope for the best."

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