Five years ago today, Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast region, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, killing more than 1,800 people along the Gulf, and leaving 770,000 homeless survivors. To mark this anniversary, President Barack Obama visited to underscore what his administration has done for the city — and the vast rebuilding work that remains.
After enjoying lunch at Parkway Bakery and Tavern with the First Lady and daughters Malia and Sasha (he had the shrimp po’ boy), the President headed to Xavier University, a historically Black school, for his speech to the city.
In the President’s remarks, he chose not to dwell on the hurricane or the inadequate response by the Bush administration, instead focusing on the sense of resilience and community shown by New Orleans residents.
“We see that at Xavier,” Obama said, explaining how despite major flood damage, Xavier’s president Norman C. Francis vowed to reopen the school in months. Classes were indeed in session four months later. “Less than a year after the storm, I had the privilege of delivering a commencement address to the largest graduating class in Xavier’s history,” said Obama, who pointed out that New Orleans is one of the fastest-growing cities in America.
President Obama also acknowledged the severe problems still facing the city, such as vacant and overgrown lots, students and residents in trailers, and thousands of natives who have not been able to come home. “While an incredible amount of progress has been made, on this fifth anniversary, I wanted to come here and tell the people of this city directly,” he said. “My administration is going to stand with you — and fight alongside you — until the job is done.”
The President next ticked off a number of developments set up by his team: cutting red tape and bureaucracy to free up hundreds of millions in federal aid for housing and construction projects, “dramatically reducing” the number of families in temporary emergency housing, settling a long-standing dispute to fund a replacement for Charity Hospital, a state-run institution for the city’s poor, and just last week freeing up $1.8 billion for schools. He also reaffirmed his vow to have a new fortified levee system finished by next year. Acknowledging the BP oil spill, which further devastated the region this year and prompted criticism of the President for his slow public response, he confronted the view that his efforts were uncoordinated and weak. “From the start, I promised you two things,” he said. “One is that we would see to it that the leak was stopped. And it has been. But the second promise I made was that we would stick with our efforts, and stay on BP, until the damage to the Gulf and to the lives of the people in this region was reversed. And this, too, is a promise we will keep.” Obama wrapped up his remarks by again emphasizing that Hurricane Katrina’s legacy will be the way the local community worked together against such an enormous tragedy. “The work ahead will not be easy,” he said. “There will be setbacks. There will be challenges along the way. But today, thanks to you and the people of this great city, New Orleans is blossoming once more.”
For more of Cynthia Gordy‘s Obama Watch stories, click here.