- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — Four senators, including the two from Louisiana and two potential 2008 presidential contenders, said yesterday they are dedicated to rebuilding the flood-ravaged city’s levees, protecting the coastline from future disasters and reviving the tourism industry.

In a press conference 100 feet from where Lake Pontchartrain’s waters breached the levees, the senators said every state in the nation can learn from the mistakes and successes seen here in the 10 months since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.

“This is more than just a test for Louisiana and Mississippi. The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast is a test of America,” said Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat. “We need to be there for you at your critical hour.”

Mr. Bayh, the subject of presidential speculation, said being a former governor helps him understand national disasters.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and also a former governor, agreed. Mr. Allen, who is thought to be weighing a White House bid, said the new strategies that surely will emerge from the tragedy can serve as a model for other states.

“You don’t want to lose this,” Mr. Allen said after a morning meeting with business leaders who pitched him their plans for rebuilding the city. “Let’s put some of these creative ideas in place and hope other places in the country will take notice.”

Republican Sen. David Vitter and Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu gave their colleagues tours of the battered regions of the city, complete with helicopter rides and meetings where the senators heard an earful from business leaders.

“The bottom line is the whole region remains devastated in trying to just bring back the basic infrastructure that you need to have a business successful,” said Mark Drennan, chief executive of economic-development group Greater New Orleans Inc.

The senators agreed that New Orleans should be able to share in the royalties from deep sea energy exploration and said small-business loans should be boosted. They said the city must plan for better evacuation routes and that the coastal wetlands must be protected.

The Louisiana senators said they try to bring as many lawmakers to the region as possible.

“You’ve got to see it to really understand it,” Mrs. Landrieu said.

Both Mrs. Landrieu and Mr. Vitter said the recent crime wave that prompted Mayor C. Ray Nagin to call in the National Guard is unfortunately a deterrent to much-needed tourism business and hurts morale.

“The last thing people want to have to worry about are lootings, shootings when they are literally on their hands and knees rebuilding their neighborhoods,” Mrs. Landrieu said.

“We need to be very sensitive to what message we send out to the rest of the country as we’re trying to revive a tourist economy because there isn’t pandemonium in the middle of downtown and the French Quarter,” Mr. Vitter said.

Steve Perry of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau said it is important to remind people that the French Quarter is “fully ready” for large events, and more than 25,000 hotel rooms are functional citywide.

An underlying fear among officials and residents slowly returning to New Orleans is the current hurricane season. Mr. Vitter said he is nervous because progress is lacking in some significant areas such as pumping capacity.

“If the levees breach 7 feet it will be a huge blow to recovery,” he said.

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