President Bush will return to the Gulf Coast next week, where hard times and resentment linger two years after Hurricane Katrina’s massive strike.
Bush will fly into New Orleans on Tuesday after giving a speech about the Iraq war to the American Legion convention in Reno, Nev. On Wednesday, the anniversary of the storm, he is expected to examine recovery efforts in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The monster hurricane was the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history. It swamped a beloved city, killed 1,800 people across the Gulf Coast, destroyed or severely damaged more than 200,000 homes and made more than 800,000 people homeless overnight.
In New Orleans today, despite progress, signs of a shattered city abound. Neighborhoods are in ruins. Crime, inadequate health care and faulty infrastructure are pervasive.
White House: Criticisms are wrong
The Bush administration is still dogged by charges of an inadequate response — first, for the way it handled the crisis, and more recently, for not spending more time on it.
Bush’s trip will be his 15th stop in the region since the hurricane, but only his second since he visited during the one-year anniversary last August. The Gulf Coast’s plight did not even get a mention in his State of the Union address this year.
The White House says criticisms of its efforts are wrong. The federal government has provided more than $114 billion in aid, $96 billion of which has been spent or is available for states to draw from, said Bush spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
“The president continues to follow through on his commitment to help local citizens rebuild their lives and communities on the Gulf Coast,” Johndroe said.
“This was a catastrophic natural disaster that we all know is going to take some time for the Gulf Coast to recover,” he said.
Bush himself emphasized to Gulf Coast residents that the government has not forgotten them when he last toured the area — a sign of how common that perception is.
First lady Laura Bush will accompany the president on Wednesday.
Bush vacation draws to close
Meanwhile, Bush is nearing the end of a vacation at his ranch in central Texas, where’s he been biking and clearing brush in the searing heat. He arrived in Crawford on Wednesday afternoon and has no public events scheduled through Sunday.
The president heads West on Monday for Republican fundraisers in New Mexico and Washington state. The White House is billing his speech Tuesday to the American Legion as part of a new effort to frame the Iraq war in historical context. He then heads to Louisiana.