WASHINGTON -- President Bush is about to join the hundreds of other Americans who have returned to their homes recently to find them wiped out by fire and natural disasters.
A sudden, fierce storm that blew up along the Atlantic coastline Wednesday sent 30-foot waves crashing over the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, severely damaging the main buildings, ripping up the sea walls and scattering granite rocks from the coast throughout the property.
"We're talking boulders in the living room," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
Mr. Bush, who has often described the 88-year-old stone and shingle resort on Walker's Point as his sanctuary and the only real home he's ever known, reshuffled some travel plans for the weekend so he can fly to Maine tomorrow to inspect the damage.
"It was rather devastating to our family," the president told reporters. "But when I compare that to the fortunes of others," he said, referring specifically to fires in Oakland, Calif., "why, we've got a lot to be grateful for."
Now on a political trip to Texas where he and Vice President Dan Quayle formally launched fund-raising efforts for their anticipated election bid, Mr. Bush has canceled a planned weekend in Houston to return to Washington late tonight.
Mr. Fitzwater said Mr. Bush would probably go up to Maine and back in one day, partly because he doesn't know whether any buildings at Walker's Point are habitable for an overnight stay.
The inspection tour will be entirely at taxpayer expense even though it involves only private business, Mr. Fitzwater said.
"It's just like he was going on vacation or any other trip, it's part of the presidency," Mr. Fitzwater said. "Just like Jimmy Carter going to Plains, or John Kennedy going to Hyannisport."
It wasn't clear yesterday whether the Bush compound, on which local property tax assessors have put a value of $2.2 million, could be restored. Following the last major storm there in 1978, the main building was so badly damaged that a middle section of it was completely leveled, leaving an end portion that was converted into a guest house.