- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

President Obama used the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to pledge a visit to New Orleans by the end of the year and to showcase the new administration’s disaster preparedness efforts.

“On this day, we commemorate a tragedy that befell our people. But we also remember that with every tragedy comes the chance of renewal,” he said in his Saturday radio address, also posted on video at WhiteHouse.gov

“It is a quintessentially American notion — that adversity can give birth to hope, and that the lessons of the past hold the key to a better future,” the president said. “[T]ogether, we can ensure that the legacy of a terrible storm is a country that is safer and more prepared for the challenges that may come.”

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast and the Saturday morning address followed the New Orleans Times Picayune calling in a front-page editorial for Mr. Obama to visit the region.

“Together with volunteers from around the country, we are striving to make this a better place than it was before the storm, with renovated houses, vastly improved schools and a unique culture that’s as vibrant as ever,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote Thursday. “But there’s no substitute for the focus, the energy, the commitment that a president alone can bestow. There’s no substitute for you, as president, seeing our recovery and its halting progress with your own eyes, for taking time to walk in our shoes. So we ask you to bring your considerable intellect, your problem-solving ability, your influence to bear. When a president pays attention, so does the nation.”

In the address, Mr. Obama touted the work of his 8-month-old administration along the gulf and noted 11 of his Cabinet members have toured the region.

“I’m looking forward to going to New Orleans later this year,” he added.

“We know you don’t lack passion for our community and its recovery,” the newspaper wrote, acknowledging “federal recovery bureaucracy has been eased,” but adding, “much remains to be done.”

The radio address also comes after Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal praised the Obama administration’s efforts as practical and flexible, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Obama said “none of us can forget” how the storm ravaged the Gulf Coast and the lives lost and homes uprooted four years ago.

“As we remember all that was lost, we must take stock of the work being done on recovery, while preparing for future disasters,” he said.

The president said Katrina prompted Americans to question “whether government could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis, or contribute to a recovery that covered parts of four states.”

The storm also marked a political turning point as President George W. Bush was viewed as unresponsive and aloof and the qualifications of his administration’s officials were called into question. The fallout from the Katrina response helped Democrats recapture Congress the following year.

The president talked about how his administration has freed up funding to get stalled projects moving and said he’s prioritized coordination among federal, state and local governments.

He pledged “no more turf wars,” since there is “much more work to be done,” and lauded volunteers and the resilient spirit of the Gulf Coast residents.

“As we rebuild and recover, we must also learn the lessons of Katrina, so that our nation is more protected and resilient in the face of disaster,” Mr. Obama said. “And across the country, that means improving coordination among different agencies, modernizing our emergency communications, and helping families plan for a crisis.”

He urged Americans to visit www.ready.gov to prepare for dangers from wildfires and earthquakes to the H1N1 flu virus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also marked the anniversary, saying in a statement: “The response to Hurricane Katrina remains a work in progress, but progress is being made.”

Both Democrats noted the $787 billion stimulus plan included funds for Katrina recovery and rebuilding infrastructure in the gulf.

The White House emphasized Katrina recovery efforts behind the scenes all week, offering Mr. Obama to the Times-Picayune for an Oval Office interview, and also deployed Vice President Joe Biden and top administration officials for interviews.

Mr. Obama told the newspaper the storm “was really a wake-up call for the country — about our need to fulfill our commitments to our fellow citizens, a recognition that there but for the grace of God go I, that all of us can fall prey to these kinds of natural disasters.”

The Washington Times has done a series of stories examining the aftermath of the storm — from Mr. Obama’s efforts to put his own policy stamp on the rebuilding efforts to the mental health struggle of survivors.

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