- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — President Bush, visiting the still-suffering Gulf Coast, said yesterday that Congress must help this ravaged city recover from Hurricane Katrina by approving billions that he has requested to repair levees and compensate Louisianians who lost homes.

“I’m getting a view of the progress that is being made,” Mr. Bush said after a tour by air and on the ground offered a chilling portrait of the pain that lingers six months after Katrina struck. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, no question about it.”

Congress is poised to allocate $4.2 billion in flexible community development funds for areas affected by the hurricane, but lawmakers have decided to dedicate that money to all states affected by Katrina. Mr. Bush said Congress must allocate the $4.2 billion just for Louisiana, to help residents whose homes have been damaged or destroyed.

“The number fits into a well-thought-out plan that has been put together by the local folks,” Mr. Bush said from the Industrial Canal levee, which was breached during the storm and devastated the Lower 9th Ward.

As pile drivers could be heard working behind him to repair the damaged levee, Mr. Bush also said Congress “shortchanged the process” by diverting $1.5 billion in levee-rebuilding money to projects not related to New Orleans.

Congress needs to restore the “1.5 billion to make sure this is a real commitment,” he said.

A key House panel appeared set to do just that later yesterday. The House Appropriations Committee was set to adopt Mr. Bush’s request for $19.1 billion in new money for hurricane relief and rebuilding. Included in that legislation would be $1.5 billion in Army Corps of Engineers water projects, with the money now directed chiefly toward rebuilding levees, canals and pumping stations in New Orleans.

Many residents in the hurricane-battered region are frustrated and angry that more progress has not been made. Mr. Bush’s trip, his 10th since the hurricane hit, was aimed at three interrelated areas: efforts to restore New Orleans’ levees, removing still-persistent debris from affected communities and lagging efforts to get displaced people into housing.

After landing in New Orleans, Mr. Bush got an eye-opening reminder of just how much work remains in the city.

His motorcade took him through the hard-hit, primarily black Lower 9th Ward that is still largely abandoned. Demolition of the worst-damaged homes in that ward and in the Lakeview area began only this week.

Mr. Bush also saw boarded-up fast-food restaurants and other businesses, abandoned homes spray-painted with big X’s on the front and piles of garbage on the side of the road. Stray dogs roamed the streets, and some homes had mass-produced red-and-white signs with the words: “Save our Neighborhood. No Bulldozing.” Other homes were flattened.

One of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, Katrina killed more than 1,300 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Mr. Bush said residents need to consider giving permission to local authorities to remove debris from private property.

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