- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — President Bush acknowledged yesterday that the people of the Gulf Coast are angered by the slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Katrina and he promised to help pick up the pace.

“I fully understand that there are frustrations, and I want to know the frustrations,” Mr. Bush said while sitting down to lunch with city leaders. “To the extent we can help, we’ll help.”

In his first visit to the region in six months, Mr. Bush sought to fight the perception that he has forgotten about those hard hit by the August 2005 storm. Much of the city outside the tourist areas remains in ruins.

“I committed to the people of this part of the world and the Gulf Coast that the federal government would fund recovery — and stay committed to the recovery,” Mr. Bush said during his 14th trip to the region. It was his first visit since he toured the area on the one-year anniversary of the storm.

The Bush administration’s initial response to the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history was seen by some as a failure. The White House has since sought to reassure residents — and the nation — that it is committed to recovery.

The White House says Mr. Bush has helped make $110 billion in aid available for rebuilding, education and rental assistance. Mr. Bush’s aides say Cabinet officials have visited the region dozens of times, and that state and local leaders must share responsibility for delays.

Mr. Bush’s message of the day was that Washington has provided money and wants to get it in people’s hands.

In Washington, some Democrats criticized Mr. Bush for not intervening more often.

“Long-term recovery for the Gulf Coast requires a whole lot more than 18 months of empty promises,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. “Businesses that were once the heart of the Gulf Coast economy are now hanging on by a thread.”

The federal official overseeing recovery efforts said Katrina’s damage was so vast that it was hard to estimate when the recovery will be completed.

“We all have a sense of urgency,” Don Powell, Mr. Bush’s coordinator for the Gulf Coast recovery, told reporters.

“American taxpayers have poured a lot of money in that area,” Mr. Powell said. “It’s important that the locals — that local people — begin to push a process” to get the money where it is needed.

Of $110 billion in relief aid that Congress has approved, $86 billion has been committed to projects, and $53 billion of that has been spent, Mr. Powell told reporters aboard Air Force One.

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