Obama vows to 'stand with' gulf area on fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

President Obama is in New Orleans celebrating the city's revival from Hurricane Katrina and pledging common purpose with residents in the continuing struggle to protect and rebuild the Gulf Coast.
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2010; 9:29 PM

NEW ORLEANS - President Obama marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Sunday with a solidarity visit to this city still recovering from the devastating storm, pledging to "stand with you and fight alongside you until the job is done."

"The work ahead will not be easy," Obama told an audience of several hundred students, professors and community leaders at Xavier University, a campus that was shut down for months after the hurricane. "There will be setbacks. There will be challenges along the way. But today, thanks to you and the people of this great city, New Orleans is blossoming once more."

About 1,800 people died along the Gulf Coast when Katrina blew ashore five years ago, many of them in this iconic city. The storm left as much as 80 percent of New Orleans underwater and exposed a federal emergency response system unprepared for such a catastrophe.

In his speech before a largely partisan crowd, Obama called Katrina "a natural disaster but also a man-made catastrophe - a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, women and children abandoned and alone." His message amounted to a promise to the city that such laxity before the storm and unresponsiveness in the crucial days afterward would not be repeated.

Obama arrived here from Martha's Vineyard, where he and his family had just concluded a 10-day vacation. He was met at the airport under clouds heavy with rain by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D), along with a few members of the state's congressional delegation.

His first stop was the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, a century-old landmark in the Mid-City neighborhood that Katrina submerged under 10 feet of water. He ate a shrimp po'-boy sandwich, a nod to the safety of gulf seafood after the BP oil spill, and kissed the cheek of the woman who took his order.

"We're still here, and we're just going to keep on building," Obama told the diners. "We're going to keep on working, all right?" As he worked the restaurant, a call came over the loudspeaker announcing, "Pickup, Barack."

Several dozen demonstrators stood in the hard rain to greet his arrival at Xavier's urban campus, most of them demanding more answers and action to address the oil spill. The audience inside received him warmly, frequently interrupting his speech with applause and booing Republican officials, such as Jindal, whom Obama tried to thank for their work.

In his remarks, Obama used principals and students, musicians and the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints to describe a city that, against all odds, rebounded from the flooding and loss of life. The speech contained a set of homilies - he drew once from the Book of Job - about resilience and community.

"Ultimately, that must be the legacy of Katrina," Obama said. "Not one of neglect, but of action. Not one of indifference, but of empathy. Not of abandonment, but of a community working together to meet shared challenges."

At Xavier, Katrina battered buildings and flooded classrooms, forcing its closure. But within five months classes began again largely because of the perseverance of its president, Norman Francis, who has led the university for more than four decades.

Obama delivered the university's commencement address less than a year after the storm, and 80 percent of its students, many of whom had left their damaged city and ruined homes for shelter elsewhere, had returned to class by January 2006.

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