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Bush Tours New Orleans, Promises Change


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

One year ago today, Hurricane Katrina barreled to shore on the Gulf Coast, costing lives and bringing widespread devastation to Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. In New Orleans, levee breaks caused catastrophic flooding across much of the city and recovery has been painfully slow. Today, public officials and residents gathered to pray and to mourn the deaths as well as the losses.

President Bush joined in some of the ceremonies. He has been sharply criticized for this handling of the storm and the rebuilding. But today he promised his administration has learned from its mistakes and he said it would address what went wrong.

We'll have three reports. First, NPR's Audie Cornish was with the president in New Orleans.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

President Bush started his day at Betsy's Pancake House with a short stack and a promise. Waitress Joyce Labruzzo asked Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me? No, ma'am, Mr. Bush laughed and paused. Not again. This time last year Labruzzo's restaurant and 80 percent of the city was under water.

(Soundbite of bells)

CORNISH: By the time bells tolled to commemorate the breaking of the levees, the president and Mrs. Bush were in the front row of the St. Louis cathedral.

(Soundbite of choir)

CORNISH: Among those participating in the service was U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russell Honore, who directed federal troops in the relief effort. Today he read from the Bible's book of Lamentations.

Lieutenant General RUSSELL HONORE (U.S. Army): Remembering it over and over, leave my soul downcast within me. But I will call this to mind as my reason to have hope.

CORNISH: After the service Mr. Bush visited a mid-city neighborhood, where the patchwork of trailers and damaged homes is emblematic of the city's condition. There the president and the first lady toured Warren Easton Senior High School, which got federal dollars to restock its library but has delayed reopening as repairs continue. Speaking in the school's auditorium, Mr. Bush took responsibility for the federal government's response to the storm.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Every department of my administration has looked at its response to last year's hurricanes and has recommended practical reforms, things to do to make sure that the response is better.

CORNISH: Many in the crowd had driven in from suburbs such as Kenner and Mederi. They applauded the president's message of rebirth and self-sufficiency.

President BUSH: The federal government is working with the Louisiana Recovery Authority to help people get back in their homes and we've appropriated more than $10 billion to help people achieve that dream.

CORNISH: Some of that federal money is just now reaching a handful of Louisiana citizens this week as the state gets its Road Home Recovery Grant Program underway.

President BUSH: New Orleans is calling her children home. I hear it from all of the local officials. They say they've got a plan in place and money coming to make New Orleans a hospitable place.

CORNISH: The population here is less than half the 480,000 who lived here before Katrina, but New Orleans has always been a city that knows how to be hospitable and its residents were showing how again today with anniversary events of their own.

(Soundbite of jazz band)

CORNISH: From neighborhood potlucks to roundtable discussions and those signature jazz processions that could only happen in one place.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.