NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Five years after the ravaging storm, President Obama celebrated New Orleans' revival from Hurricane Katrina on Sunday and pledged common purpose with residents in the continuing struggle to protect and rebuild the Gulf Coast.
Mr. Obama declared to those who dedicated themselves to their city's recovery, "Because of you, New Orleans is coming back."
And he pledged, "My administration is going to stand with you and fight alongside you until the job is done. "
Implicit in his remarks was an indictment of sorts against his predecessor's administration for its handling of the crisis. Mr. Obama called Katrina and its aftermath not just a natural disaster but "a manmade catastrophe — a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, women and children abandoned and alone."
Obama spoke at Xavier University, an institution wracked with debris and floodwaters in August 2005 but soon back in operation. New Orleans, he said, has become a "symbol of resilience and community."
The storm killed more than 1,800 people along the Gulf coast, most in Louisiana, and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans.
Mr. Obama ticked off progress: a fortified levee system set to be finished next year, a dramatic decline in families still living in emergency housing, rising achievement in the city's public schools, a surge in small businesses, making New Orleans one of the nation's fastest growing cities.
On the other hand, he said: "I don't have to tell you that there are still too many vacant and overgrown lots. There are still too many students attending classes in trailers. There are still too many people unable to find work. And there are still too many New Orleanians who have not been able to come home."
After years in which halting progress mixed often with setbacks and despair, the city was getting back on its feet when the BP oil spill dealt another blow. The exploded well spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf before it was capped in mid-July.
Mr. Obama's challenge was to reassure residents who remain skeptical of government promises after witnessing former President George W. Bush's response to Katrina, which was widely criticized as inept. Although criticism of Mr. Obama's response to the Gulf oil spill rarely reached the level of anger directed at Mr. Bush, some still saw it as lacking in speed and coordination.
To a region weary of calamity, Mr. Obama pledged, too, to "stand with you until the oil is cleaned up, the environment is restored, polluters are held accountable, communities are made whole and this region is back on its feet."
The first stop on Mr. Obama's visit was the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, a local institution in the once-flooded midcity. Joined by his family, Mr. Obama mingled with customers at the city landmark, posed with an engaged couple and ordered a shrimp po-boy from the counter of the sandwich shop that was under 6 feet of water after Katrina hit.