September 06, 2005 07:00 AM

Victims of Hurricane Katrina received relief this Labor Day weekend in the form of long-awaited government aid, financial pledges on TV marathons and personal visits from celebrities.

On Monday, Oprah Winfrey spent time among the 18,500 New Orleans evacuees who have now taken shelter in Houston’s Astrodome, where singer Macy Gray spent Saturday dispensing clothing and toiletries to the arrivals.

“I just really wanted to help out,” said Gray. “It is crazy when you don’t know what is going to happen to you the next day and suddenly that is what their lives are like.”

More than 120,000 refugees were in 97 shelters in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and dozens of smaller cities across the vast state, Gov. Rick Perry’s office said, with another 100,000 in hotels and motels. Uncounted more were in churches or private homes, the Associated Press reports.

Former first lady Barbara Bush – who accompanied her husband, George H.W. Bush – visited the Astrodome on Monday, defending her son, current President George W. Bush, for his handling of the disaster.

She also raised eyebrows by saying the evacuation to Houston was “working very well” for some of the poor victims.

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality,” Mrs. Bush said during a radio interview with the American Public Media program “Marketplace.” “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

Former president Bill Clinton toured the shelter with his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, speaking with and embracing children they met.

Both former presidents also announced the creation of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, to assist with the recovery effort. (To contribute, go to

“We’re most anxious to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” George H.W. Bush said. “It will take all of us working together to accomplish our goal. This job is too big for any one group.”

Clinton said he thinks the federal government’s response to the tragedy should be examined. But for now, he said, the focus should be on helping the survivors restart their lives.

“There is still a lot of anger. There is still a lot of confusion, but I don’t think we should be surprised,” Clinton said. “These people lost everything and the experience they had in the (New Orleans) Superdome or the convention center was horrible.”

Other stars contributing to the relief effort included John Travolta, who, in his own plane, delivered 400 doses of tetanus vaccines to be given to rescuers. “What we’ve seen in the shelters is wonderful, because people are being taken care of,” he told reporters. “What we’ve seen in the city is disastrous.”

Sean Penn also lent a helping hand in New Orleans on Sunday to help search for survivors, calling the federal government “negligent” in its efforts.

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