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Clinton tours Mississippi Gulf Coast

Former President Bill Clinton toured the Mississippi Gulf Coast Wednesday to see firsthand how best to spend $100 million in relief funds he raised with the help of former President George H.W. Bush. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

It may look for all the world like a campaign stop, but when you listen to what the people are saying you realize they're asking for help — five weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Former President Bill Clinton came here to hear complaints and to decide where to spend $100 million — the money raised so far by the former president and his partner, former President George H.W. Bush.

With Clinton on Wednesday’s trip, the governor of Mississippi, Republican Haley Barbour. And on this trip, these two men, both veteran Southern politicians, stand together. They do not allow talk about politics. They offer reassuring words about recovery.

The people here are aware that they are now getting attention. They know how many trips the current president has made and, Wednesday, they were able to welcome a former president to their neighborhood.

“It means a great deal that he came to our community,” says resident Mavis Daniels. “’’Cause I've been here since 1970, so it means a great deal to all of us.”

For Bill Clinton, coming here means a return to some familiar territory. He says it brings up memories of life as a young man growing up in nearby Arkansas.

“My family only took one out-of-state vacation when I was a boy, my whole childhood,” remembers Clinton, “and we went to New Orleans, and then we went to Gulfport and Biloxi. So when Katrina hit, my mind immediately raced back to 44 years ago and the thrill I felt the first time I was here on the Gulf Coast.”

For the former president, still just months after heart surgery, this is work. It’s air travel and motorcades, it’s the crowds that he loves, and Wednesday, as he spoke with NBC News, against the back fence of a home left unlivable by Katrina, he talked about what a calling this is.

“America was good to us,” Clinton says, “and gave us a chance to live our dreams and have a wonderful opportunity to be president. You ought to take what you learn and try to give it back. For as long as you live. So I love this. It's enormously rewarding. I just wish I can do more.”

Clinton started the day with a phone call to his partner in all this, former President Bush, who is coming to Mississippi next week to see for himself.