President Obama used the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to showcase the new administration’s disaster-preparedness efforts and to pledge a visit to New Orleans by the end of the year.
“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 weekly Saturday radio address. “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.”
This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast, and the Saturday address came after the New Orleans Times-Picayune called in a front-page editorial for Mr. Obama to visit the region.
“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.”
In his address, Mr. Obama touted the work of his 8-month-old administration along the Gulf Coast and noted that 11 members of his Cabinet have toured the region.
“I’m looking forward to going to New Orleans later this year,” he added.
Mr. Obama said “none of us can forget” how the storm ravaged the region and how many lives were lost and homes destroyed 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 the administration of President George W. Bush was viewed as unresponsive and aloof. The fallout from the Katrina disaster helped Democrats recapture control of Congress the following year.
Mr. Obama said his administration has freed up funding to get stalled projects moving and said he’s made coordination between federal, state and local governments a priority.
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.
The White House has emphasized Katrina recovery efforts behind the scenes all week, offering the Times-Picayune an Oval Office interview with Mr. Obama.
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 recently published 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 struggles of many New Orleans survivors.