BILOXI, Miss. (BP)–There’s still more to be done but the signs of recovery from Hurricane Katrina abound, President Bush said from Biloxi, Miss., Aug. 28 during a two-day trip to the Gulf Coast marking the one-year anniversary of one of the nation’s most destructive natural disasters.
“You can’t drive through this state without seeing signs of recovery and renewal,” Bush said. “It’s just impossible to miss the signs of hope. And you’ve done it the old-fashioned way, with vision and hard work and resolve.”
Bush and his wife, Laura, met with community leaders in Mississippi and then moved on to New Orleans, where the president spoke from a high school Aug. 29 and urged former residents to return to their city, which has retained only half of its pre-Katrina population.
“I know you love New Orleans, and New Orleans needs you,” Bush said in Louisiana. “She needs people coming home. She needs people — she needs those saints to come marching back, is what she needs.”
In comments made in Biloxi, Bush recalled individuals he met a year ago when the trauma of the hurricane was fresh on their faces, and he commended them for their bravery and determination in establishing new lives.
“This is my 11th visit since the storm hit. You know, each visit you see progress. I was struck by the beauty of the beaches,” the president said. “The beaches were pretty rough after the storm, as you know. Today, they’re pristine and they’re beautiful. They reflect a hopeful future as far as I’m concerned.”
Bush noted the federal government appropriated $110 billion to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, including more than $3 billion in housing grants. His job at the federal level, he said, is to help people in that region succeed in getting their lives back on track.
The federal government has spent almost $480 million to help schools recover, Bush said. He mentioned the Laura Bush Foundation, which through the private sector has awarded more than $1 million in grants to 20 schools along the Gulf Coast to purchase new library books.
Referring to comments made by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Bush said the storm gave birth to a renaissance in Mississippi and a “new Mississippi” is coming along.
“We see the new Mississippi because of the faith-based and community organizations that abound here,” Bush said. “When the hurricane struck, men and women of faith stepped forward immediately. … Good citizens have risen up all over Mississippi to rebuild this state. Many volunteers traveled thousands of miles to be here. In other words, I hope you realized you weren’t alone.”
Bush thanked those who volunteered their time and resources to help with the recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast, and he said opportunities to help still exist.
“I want to remind those who are constantly looking for a way to serve your fellow man that there’s still work to be done down here, that there is still hope,” Bush said. “There is still a need for people to come and help.
“The armies of compassion that conducted the millions of acts of kindness remind us that the true strength of the United States of America lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens, and we’re thankful for that,” he added.
In New Orleans, Bush stopped at 9:38 a.m. Central time to mark the first breaching of the levees with a moment of silence. From a rebuilt school, Bush later spoke of New Orleans’ unwavering determination.
“Over the course of nearly three centuries, a city that once was the center of slave trade has been transformed to a unique and great American city,” he said. “This city is a story of hope and dignity and perseverance. And it’s these qualities that have seen you through trials of war and prejudice and natural disaster.”
Hurricane Katrina brought out the very best of America through countless acts of courage, Bush said, but it also brought “terrible scenes that we never thought we’d see in America.”
“When the rain stopped and this wounded city was laid bare, our television screens showed faces worn down by poverty and despair,” he said. “For most of you, the storms were only the beginning of your difficulties. Katrina exposed the big things that need repairing; yet it’s most devastating impact has been on the rhythms of everyday life.”
Days after the storm, Bush spoke from Jackson Square in New Orleans to promise federal aid and the perseverance of the U.S. government to help citizens recover.
“I’ve come back to New Orleans,” he said Aug. 29, “to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then.”
In addition to the need for residents to return, the president said New Orleans must have confidence in a stronger levee system to protect from future storms. The city also is in need of new homes and businesses and better schools and infrastructure, he said.
“Of course, government has a part, but the truth of the matter is a lot of the effort, a lot of the success, and a lot of results were achieved because of faith-based and community groups,” Bush said.
Although more than three-fourths of the debris has been cleared from New Orleans, Bush said he was well aware that much recovery work remains.
“I have returned to make it clear to people that I understand we’re marking the first anniversary of the storm, but this anniversary is not an end,” he said. “And so I come back to say that we will stand with the people of southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi until the job is done.”