President Barack Obama promised Saturday that his administration would not forget what he called a tragic response to Hurricane Katrina. He said he would visit the still-recovering New Orleans before the end of the year.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president noted that the Bush administration's response to the killer storm raised questions among people in the United States about whether the government "could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis."
Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and leaving behind more than $40 billion in property damage. Hurricane Rita followed almost a month later, with billions of dollars in additional damage and at least 11 more deaths.
Obama said he wanted to ensure "that the legacy of a terrible storm is a country that is safer and more prepared for the challenges that may come."
Since taking office, Obama has sent 11 members of the Cabinet to the region to inspect progress and to hear local ideas on how to speed up repairs.
"Our approach is simple: Government must keep its responsibility to the people, so that Americans have the opportunity to take responsibility for their future," Obama said in his address, released during his vacation on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.
Obama acknowledged that recovery has not come at an acceptable pace.
"I have also made it clear that we will not tolerate red tape that stands in the way of progress or the waste that can drive up the bill," said Obama. "Government must be a partner — not an opponent — in getting things done."
'A sense of momentum'
As a candidate, he promised during a speech at Tulane University in February 2008 to help the city hire police officers, repair schools, improve public transit, finish rebuilding the levee system and offer financial incentives to attract teachers, businesses and medical professionals.
Obama's disaster relief chief, Craig Fugate, has been cited by Gulf Coast officials and Obama administration officials alike for breaking through the gridlock that has delayed recovery.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal recently said he had a lot of respect for Fugate and his team. "There is a sense of momentum and a desire to get things done," he said of the career emergency official.
In half a year, Obama's team says it has cleared at least 75 projects that were in dispute, including libraries, schools and university buildings.
Even so, many towns remain broken, littered with boarded-up houses and overgrown vacant lots. Hundreds of projects — including critical needs such as sewer lines, fire stations and a hospital — are entangled in the bureaucracy or federal-local disputes over who should pick up the tab.
"No more turf wars," Obama said. "All of us need to move forward together, because there is much more work to be done," he said.
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