President Bush is promising continued government help for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. One year after the storm hit the US Gulf Coast, the president is touring the region and meeting with the survivors.
The president acknowledges it will take years to repair all the storm damage. But he says the people who live and work on the Gulf Coast have the determination to rebuild their homes and their lives.
"The spirit is here," said President Bush. "The people want to succeed. And our job at the federal level is to help you to succeed. That is what I have come to tell you."
He spoke in the town of Biloxi, Mississippi, after walking the streets of a neighborhood hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. The president first visited the area shortly after the storm, and he said he was struck by the progress.
"It's a sense of renewal here," noted the president. "It may be hard for those of you who have endured the last year to really have that sense of change, but for a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing and I congratulate you for your courage."
He saw a town relatively clear of storm debris, but full of reminders of the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina. There are plenty of deserted, damaged houses, and empty lots now fill the spaces where storm-ravaged homes once stood. Schools and businesses have reopened, although many are still operating out of temporary trailers.
The president said the region is seeing one of the largest rebuilding projects in the nation's history, and he acknowledged that some of the toughest work lies ahead. He said the federal government is sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Gulf Coast, and he urged those frustrated with bureaucratic delays to be patient.
"I know there is some frustration," he noted. "But I want to appreciate the state working hard to make sure that money that is spent is spent well, and it goes to people who deserve it. That is what you expect."
The president also stressed that with another hurricane season now under way and a new storm named Ernesto headed for the United States, the government is better prepared to handle such natural disasters.
Local, state and federal officials have all shared the blame for the flawed initial response to Katrina, especially in New Orleans, Louisiana, 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 early federal response.
The president's public approval ratings slid following the hurricane, and have not fully recovered. Polls conducted this month by several major news organizations show an overwhelming majority of Americas still disapprove of his handling of Katrina.
But one survey - conducted by CBS News and the New York Times - also found many Americans still think state and local authorities could have done a far better job helping hurricane victims in New Orleans. Mr. Bush was heading there immediately after his events in Mississippi. On Tuesday, he will attend a prayer service, meet with local officials and speak about his hopes for rebuilding the city.