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Bush visits New Orleans for Katrina anniversary

Bush visits New Orleans for Katrina anniversary

President George W. Bush commemorated Hurricane Katrina's devastating blow Wednesday with a moment of silence. Across town, in a symbol of a federal-city divide that persists two years after the killer storm, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin marked the moment of the levee's breach with bell-ringing.
Bush and his wife, Laura, are spending the anniversary in New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, determined to celebrate those he said have "dedicated their lives to the renewal of New Orleans."
The front page of The Times-Picayune had a scathing editorial: "Treat us fairly, Mr. President." It chided the Bush administration for giving Republican-dominated Mississippi, which had less storm damage, a disproportionate share of federal money as compared to largely Democratic Louisiana. "We ought to get no less help from our government than any other victims of this disaster," the editorial said.
"This town's coming back," Bush said after visiting with educators and students at a school in the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. "This town is better today than it was yesterday and it's going to be better tomorrow than it is today."
It is the president's 15th visit to the Gulf Coast since the massive hurricane obliterated coastal Mississippi, flooded most of New Orleans and killed 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi when it roared onto land the morning of Aug. 29, 2005 _ but it is only his second stop since last year's anniversary.
The performance by the president and the federal government in the immediate aftermath of the storm _ and some residents' lingering sense of abandonment since _ severely dented Bush's image as a take-charge leader.
"If George Bush's government were as good and decent and focused as the people of New Orleans, whole parts of the city would not still look like the storm just hit. This is a national disgrace," said Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who launched his campaign last year from the devastated Ninth Ward.
As on other visits, the president and his team arrived here armed with facts and figures to show how much the Bush administration has done to fulfill the promises the president made two-and-a-half weeks after the hurricane.
"We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," Bush said then from historic Jackson Square in New Orleans' French Quarter. "This great city will rise again."
In fact, there is some good news here. The city's population is rebounding, and a few neighborhoods thrive. New Orleans has recovered much of its economic base and sales tax revenues are approaching normal. The French Quarter survived Katrina, and the music and restaurant scenes are recovering.
But much of New Orleans still looks like a wasteland, with businesses shuttered and houses abandoned. Basic services like schools, libraries, public transportation and childcare are at half their original levels and only two-thirds of the region's licensed hospitals are open. Rental properties are in severely short supply, driving rents for those that are available way up. Crime is rampant and police operate out of trailers.
Along Mississippi's 70-mile (112-kilometer) shoreline, harsh economic realities also are hampering rebuilding.
Many projects are hamstrung by the soaring costs of construction and insurance, while federal funding has been slow to flow to cities. Other economic indicators are down _ such as population, employment and housing supplies.
Bush's Gulf Coast rebuilding chief, Don Powell, noted the federal government has committed a total of $114 billion (euro83 billion) to the region, $96 billion (euro70 billion) of which is already disbursed or available to local governments. Most of it has been for disaster relief, not long-term recovery. He implied it is local officials' fault, particularly in Louisiana where the pace has been slower, if money has not reached citizens.
Powell also said the president intends to ask for the approximately $5 billion (euro3.7 billion) federal share of the $7.6 billion (euro5.6 billion) more needed to strengthen New Orleans' levee system to withstand a 100-year storm and improve the area's drainage system. Though the levees are not yet ready for the next massive storm, they are slated to be strengthened by 2015.
But Powell said other areas _ such as infrastructure repair and home rebuilding _ are shared responsibilities with local officials or entirely the purview of state and local governments, suggesting that the federal government is absolved when those things do not happen.
Local residents do not appreciate the insinuations.
"The federal government still seems to place a higher priority on troop surges in Iraq than on storm surges in our part of the world," New Orleans resident Walter L. Bonam wrote in an op-ed in Wednesday's Times-Picayune newspaper.
Mark Smith, a spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's homeland security department, said dealing with the federal bureaucracy has been difficult.
"To say that anybody is not getting the money out to the parishes, after we've already gotten out more money than anyone else in history, under more constraints, is ludicrous," said Mark Smith, a homeland security spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.


Updated : 2021-05-19 07:22 GMT+08:00