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Bush Heads to Gulf Coast for Hurricane Anniversary


President Bush travels Monday to America's Gulf Coast as the region marks the passage of one year since Hurricane Katrina hit landfall. The president plans to visit with storm survivors and inspect reconstruction efforts.

President Bush will begin his tour of the region in Mississippi - one of the states that felt the full fury of Hurricane Katrina.

The head of the federal government's Gulf Coast reconstruction effort, Donald Powell, says the president will have a message for the people of the Gulf Coast

He spoke on the ABC television program This Week.

"The president's number one message is that there has been progress but we are not done," said Donald Powell. "We are not going to leave until we are done."

In Mississippi, the president will walk through neighborhoods hard hit by last year's storm, visit a recovering business, and meet with local and state leaders.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says most of his state has moved from recovery to rebuilding. During an appearance on the CBS program Face the Nation, he said there is a lot to do but stressed Mississippi is ready to face the challenge of another hurricane season.

"Well, we are ready," said Haley Barbour. "Of course, we had a great plan last time and we got hit by the worst natural disaster in American history."

Barbour said if Hurricane Ernesto, which is now over the Caribbean, changes course and appears headed for the Gulf Coast, he will order an evacuation on Tuesday. That is the day President Bush is scheduled to spend in New Orleans, Louisiana, where an evacuation plan put in place before Hurricane Katrina failed on a massive scale.

Local, state and federal officials have all been blamed for the initial slow response to Katrina in New Orleans, where thousands of the city's poorest residents found themselves trapped in rapidly deteriorating conditions at shelters set up at a sports arena and a convention center.

President Bush came under criticism because he remained on vacation when the extent of the disaster first became known, and because he initially praised those responsible for the flawed early federal response.

The president made a series of visits to the city in the following days when he promised aid and reforms in the federal government's emergency response agency.

"Tonight I also offer this pledge [to] the American people," said President Bush. "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, said the president is getting closer to keeping his pledge. He said one problem is the federal government has imposed too much bureaucracy on the aid process, and more assistance needs to go directly to local communities.

"Now the dollars are flowing from the federal government to the state, but they really haven't gotten down to local government and the people to impact and accelerate this [rebuilding effort]," said Ray Nagin.

Nagin told NBC his city has an evacuation plan in place for this hurricane season, and there will be no recurrence of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina. But he indicated he is not convinced the repaired levees around the city will be strong enough if another major hurricane makes landfall in the New Orleans area. He said a storm surge could still top the repaired levee walls.

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