LOS ANGELES, MAY 1 -- This scarred, smoldering city held its breath after dark tonight as police and National Guard troops appeared to have substantially restored order, and President Bush deployed 4,000 Army and Marine troops in the effort to end two days of urban anarchy.

Authorities said 40 people have been killed and more than 1,500 injured. More than 3,700 fires have been reported by city officials, and more than 3,000 arrests have been made.

The death toll made this the worst riot in the city's history, surpassing the carnage from a week-long disturbance that claimed 34 lives in the Watts neighborhood in the summer of 1965.

Bush ordered that the military troops be moved here from bases in Monterey and Oceanside, Calif., and that 1,000 federal officers trained in urban policing also be sent here. The action came after he met at the White House today with military and legal advisers and then with civil rights and community leaders.

As darkness fell, streets generally were deserted in the most damaged neighborhoods, and there was no evidence that the Army and Marine troops had left their staging areas in or near the city. The 1,000 federal officers from agencies such as the FBI and the Border Patrol were on the street with the National Guard and state and local police.

State officials said tonight that the military troops would not go into the streets unless a new outbreak of violence occurs.

At the urging of civil rights leaders, Bush spoke on national television from the Oval Office this evening, appealing to the American people for racial tolerance and a return to law and order.

Bush said the violence in Los Angeles is "not about civil rights" or "the great issues of equality" but "the brutality of a mob, pure and simple." He said he would "use whatever force necessary" to restore order.

Reiterating the "anger and pain" he felt when he first viewed the videotape of four white Los Angeles police officers beating black motorist Rodney G. King on March 3, 1991, Bush said he too was "stunned" at the virtual exoneration of the officers by a jury Wednesday.

Bush said that he understood those who cannot reconcile the not-guilty verdict with the videotape. The answer to that frustration, he said, is not violence but a Justice Department inquiry that resumed today. He hinted that federal prosecution of the officers on criminal civil rights charges is a strong possibility.

He said violence and destruction of property are not answers to injustice but are themselves "an injustice."

The president ended his short address with an appeal for tolerance and for rebuilding in the nation. "We must allow our diversity to bring us together and not drive us apart," he said. "We must build a future where empty rage gives way to hope, where poverty and despair give way to opportunity."

Of more than 35 fatalities whose race and gender are known here, authorities said, three are white, three Hispanic and the rest black. All but one is male, and most were shooting victims. Only 10 have been identified by name.

Fifteen of the 40 fatalities were reported today. Officials said that funerals have not been scheduled, primarily because of difficulty in locating next of kin.

After nightfall, as police cruisers fanned through riot-torn south-central Los Angeles in pairs and carrying four officers apiece, they encountered almost deserted streets. Many multi-block areas were without electricity there.

There were reminders of the horror of Wednesday night, however, as police killed a man, 25, in an exchange of gunfire under the Harbor Freeway in that area. Elsewhere, several officers reported occasional sniper fire. Small, containable fires continued to erupt, though at a much diminished pace.

Earlier in the day, two police officers, including Officer Michael Strawberry, brother of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Darryl Strawberry, were wounded by a gunman who was subsequently wounded and arrested, a police spokeman said.

The presence of heavily armed National Guard troops ringing shopping centers helped to prevent a recurrence of rampant looting and arson that characterized the first two days of trouble here. Residents began sweeping up and hosing down ransacked neighborhoods.

The day's most emotional plea for an end to violence came from King, 26, the unemployed construction worker whose beating touched off a chain of events that culminated in this week's verdicts and the explosive reaction to them.

"People, I just want to say, can we all get along?" King said, choking back tears, as he gave reporters a brief statement outside his lawyer's office in Beverly Hills. "Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?

"We'll get our justice," King said. "They've won the battle, but they haven't won the war. We'll have our day in court, and that's all we want."

The Justice Department opened a grand jury investigation here today into possible civil rights violations by the officers. "Subpoenas have been served; evidence is being pursued," Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement.

The federal probe, held in abeyance while the state tried the officers in nearby Ventura County, is being expedited, Barr said.

With about 4,500 National Guard troops far more visible today after a slow start at deploying them into the streets Wednesday, the number of new fires declined, and firefighters brought all but a few under control. However, Mayor Tom Bradley announced that a dusk-to-dawn curfew would remain in place, and virtually all major weekend sporting and civic events were postponed or canceled. About 5,000 state and local police were on the streets.

"We're getting our legs underneath us now and beginning to make more arrests," Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said. Preliminary damage estimates total $500 million, a figure expected to increase when authorities are able to make more complete surveys.

In addition to protecting shops, National Guard troops were a strong presence at post offices in south-central Los Angeles that were opened from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so residents could pick up their first-of-the-month welfare and Social Security checks. Finding places to cash them proved to be troublesome, authorities said.

Even in areas not affected by unrest, motorists took advantage of the relative calm in daylight hours to fill their gas tanks, creating block-long lines reminiscent of the oil crises of the 1970s. City officials had ordered that gasoline be dispensed only directly into vehicles.

At food stores that stayed open, there were long lines and lots of hoarding, suggesting concern by residents that violence may escalate this weekend. Those who recalled the Watts disaster were aware that greater trouble flared there after police declared the area under control on the first night of disorder.

Phillip J. Weireter, spokesman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, said reports of incidents dropped dramatically today. "We were handling 200 incidents at any one time, including 50 fires," he said, referring to Thursday, the first full day of violence. "Today, there are 30 incidents at any given time and maybe 10 to 15 fires."

"Incidents" include fires and related violence, he said.

Weireter said 10 firefighters have been injured since violence began Wednesday afternoon. Two were shot, one in the thigh and one in the face.

He also cited a spirit of cooperation between residents and firefighters that was noticeably absent during the first 24 hours after the verdict, when police were hard pressed to protect more than 1,800 firefighters battling stubborn blazes. "I think people are fed up with it," he said.

At an ABC grocery market in the south-central section of the city, an area hit hardest by looting and burning, dozens of residents gathered in an impromptu meeting to help the cleanup. "We feel great about this," said Jeff Birdsong, the store manager.

Neighbors, armed with shovels and rakes, filled carts with shattered window glass, broken bottles and soggy remnants of groceries and deposited the mess into a large trash container under the watchful eyes of several National Guard members.

"It's going to be hard," said Joe Williams, a neighbor who patronized the grocery store and said he had no idea where he would get groceries now. "This is the wrong way to do it," he said of the looting and violence, which left the store stripped clean and several adjoining businesses burned to the ground.

Colin Senhouse, driving around with friends looking for places where they could help clean up, said he sensed that most people in the south-central area understood the cause of the violence. "I don't see a lot of people upset, but I get the feeling that they already saw a lot of the destruction and now it's time to clean up," he said.

At the northern end of south-central Los Angeles, firefighters continued to fight flare-ups, while neighbors traded stories about the tumult Wednesday night.

Raul Centeno told of a massive effort by seven men stealing an automatic teller machine. "They worked four or five hours on that thing," he said. "They were sweating, and finally they put it away in a truck." Several times during the protracted looting, he said, overworked police drove by without stopping.

Helen Isaac, who owns the only grocery store in a 10-block area, said her husband spent the night inside it with a gun, fending off looters. "Everybody is still scared," she said, pointing to hole in the ceiling where looters broke into their store.

"Anything could happen," she said, referring to the looters. "I don't think they're tired."

Farther north, in the Koreatown area, people could be seen lining up at the side of the building, waiting their turn to enter in groups of 10 to buy groceries.

Before addressing the nation tonight, Bush met with civil rights leaders, including several black Republicans who have advised him in the past. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, said Bush "is beginning to recognize the fact that unless we deal with this issue, America is in for a long, hot summer."

In Little Rock, Ark., Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton called for a national day of prayer Sunday, saying, "It's time for reconciliation." Later, at a campaign stop in Port Arthur, Tex., he told reporters that he liked Bush's speech. "He did the right thing," Clinton said.

Officials here and in Washington said California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) and Bradley had asked Bush to order the military to help here. The troops included 2,500 Army soldiers from Fort Ord in Monterey and 1,500 Marines from Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.

Outrage over the King verdict continued to reverberate around the nation.

In Atlanta, police and demonstrators clashed for a second day. San Francisco remained under a state of emergency and nighttime curfew after widespread vandalism and looting, and Nevada Gov. Robert J. Miller (D) activated the National Guard after violence in Las Vegas where at least three deaths were reported.

In New York, concern and rumors of potential violence caused many employers to send workers home early. About 500 people marched about a mile from Times Square to Madison Square Garden, and small groups of protesters later broke windows in lower Manhattan. Police made about 70 arrests.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Lou Cannon, Ruben Castaneda, Al Kamen, Gary Lee and Avis Thomas-Lester and special correspondent Leef Smith in Los Angeles; staff writer Ann Devroy in Washington; staff writer Maralee Schwartz in Port Arthur, Tex., and staff writer Don Phillips in Atlanta.