First Lady Laura Bush and Preston Sharp from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
CHRIS OCHSNER/KANSAS CITY STARS/ABACA
By Stephen M. Silverman
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition got a special guest star during a taping Tuesday: First Lady Laura Bush.
"It's going to take all of these (volunteers) working together to help people rebuild their lives," Bush said in the hot and crowded Biloxi (Miss.) Community Center, where a mountain of donated clothes covered a stage in preparation to be handed out.
The first lady – with Preston Sharp, a designer on the ABC reality show, at her side – greeted storm victims and dispensed the donated items from large plastic bins, the Associated Press reports.
While her husband's administration has been criticized for initially appearing detached from the relief effort – the president himself later accepted the blame for the government's slow response to the catastrophe of Katrina – Mrs. Bush said she was encouraged by the way governments, private organizations, faith-based groups and individuals were helping ease the suffering caused by the Aug. 29 hurricane.
Katrina killed at least 220 Mississippians, displaced as many as 1 million people in Mississippi and Louisiana, and left major damage along the state's 90-mile coast. "Extreme Makeover," which usually remodels homes for needy people with compelling stories, arrived in the region to help distribute items donated to victims.
Before Mrs. Bush entered the community center where the show was filming, a director shooed away both victims and volunteers from the doorway, instructing them how to react as her entourage entered.
"Act surprised!" he said above the din, AP reports.
Mrs. Bush previously visited the Mississippi town of Poplarville with her husband to view damage. On Tuesday, she was struck by the extent of the devastation in Biloxi, where virtually every building was damaged and mounds of rubble lined the streets.
"It really is heartbreaking," she said.
A spokeswoman for the first lady, Susan Whitson, said the Extreme Makeover segment with Mrs. Bush would likely air in early December. The New York Times reports that the delayed scheduling of the episode is intentional, because TV viewers will again need to be reminded to help hurricane victims by then.