In New Orleans, Bush Urges Volunteerism

By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 28, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, April 27 -- President Bush on Thursday wrapped his arm around a symbol of the devastation and hope of this ravaged city: Ethel Williams, one of the thousands of people who lost almost everything to Hurricane Katrina.

Making his 11th trip here since the deadly storm and floods, this time to the obliterated Ninth Ward, Bush came here on National Volunteer Day to implore more Americans to help Williams and others like her. His motorcade wound through the deserted, storm-damaged streets that offered stark reminders of the work that lies ahead: shuttered houses, littered lawns, lifeless roads.

But Williams, who fled briefly to Texas after the storm, is back here on Pauline Street, watching Catholic Charities volunteers gut her modest one-story bungalow and prepare to rebuild it. Bush placed his left arm around Williams's shoulder, surrounded himself with local Democratic politicians and praised the volunteers.

"If you are interested in helping the victims of Katrina, interested in helping them get back on their feet, come on down here," Bush said. Williams thanked the president and offered to cook him dinner when her restoration project is complete.

Back in Washington, Congress was again undercutting Bush's political restoration effort. As Bush was taking off for his morning flight here, Republicans and Democrats were arguing that the Bush administration's emergency-response agency is a disaster and should be overhauled. They cited the government's slow response to Katrina as evidence that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be abolished and replaced with a new, more effective organization.

At the same time, lawmakers haggled over how much to spend to rebuild New Orleans and other cities damaged by last year's storm. Government spending is expected to top $100 billion this year, which some lawmakers from outside the region consider too high.

Two days before this visit, the White House budget office asked Congress for another $2.2 billion in emergency funding to help repair and fortify the levees.

Frances Fragos Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One that with the hurricane season coming, the government should focus on preparation, not reorganization. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

Bush spent the entire day in New Orleans and on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, promising additional assistance and a better response next time disaster strikes. But volunteerism was his message of the day.

After leaving Williams's house, Bush toured a Habitat for Humanity project a few blocks away, where he put on a carpenter's apron and gloves, grabbed a hammer and pounded a few nails. The volunteers were turning a vacant lot bigger than a football field into an 81-unit housing complex. In Mississippi, Bush stopped at a tent city to visit with 120 people helping remove debris and build houses through a group called the Hands on Network.

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