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Bush Marks Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans


President Bush is in the southern city of New Orleans marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 people and devastated much of the southern U.S. Gulf Coast.

The president and Mrs. Bush joined hundreds of worshippers at St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of New Orleans' famed French Quarter.

They lit candles of remembrance and knelt for a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the first breach of the city's levees, which ultimately left 80 percent of New Orleans under water.

Following the service, President Bush told local leaders at a high school that the challenge is not only to help rebuild, but to restore the soul and the rhythms of everyday life.

"Some of you still do not know whether you have a neighborhood to come back to. Others of you who have made the decision to return are living in trailers," he said. "Many are separated from their loved ones, and simply long to go to church on a Sunday afternoon with somebody you care about."

Following the storm, President Bush was widely criticized for the slow pace of the federal response. More than two-thirds of Americans still disapprove of his handling of Hurricane Katrina, according to an Associated Press poll earlier this month.

Mr. Bush says he takes full responsibility for the federal response to the nation's costliest natural disaster - a storm that he says brought terrible scenes that Americans never thought they would see in their own country.

"Citizens drowned in their attics. Desperate mothers crying out on national TV for food and water. A breakdown of law and order, and a government at all levels that fell short of its responsibilities," said President Bush. "When the rains stopped and this wounded city was laid bare, our television screens showed faces worn down by poverty and despair."

Half of New Orleans still has no electricity and half of the city's hospitals remain closed.

President Bush says the federal government will stand with the people of the Gulf Coast until the job is done.

The Army Corps of Engineers is spending nearly $6 billion to repair and strengthen levees to make the entire hurricane protection system better by 2010.

The federal government has committed more than $10 billion to pay for damage not covered by insurance for eligible homeowners. Washington has provided nearly $1.5 billion to small business owners in Louisiana and more than $5.5 billion to repair roads and bridges, schools, water systems, and public utilities.

President Bush told an audience in New Orleans Tuesday that the city wants her children to come home.

Mr. Bush spoke at a high school as part of events marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The school is set to re-open in a few days, after being damaged when Katrina's force overcame the city's floodwalls last year.

Mr. Bush said that during the flood the school's classrooms were under three meters of water.

Mr. Bush also renewed his vow to do whatever it takes to help the city and the region recover. He praised the city's residents for their acts of courage during the disaster and the ongoing recovery, calling them "the very best of America."

But many homes in New Orleans' hardest hit neighborhoods are still in ruins, and some areas still lack basic services such as water and electricity. The city's population is around 200,000 today, about half of what it was before the storm.

The lack of recovery in the city has generated a lot of criticism for the Bush administration, and for local and state governments.

Katrina was one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Katrina left more than 1,800 people dead and several hundred more missing when it devastated parts of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The president has said Hurricane Katrina revealed that federal, state and local governments were not prepared to deal with such a catastrophe. The federal government has committed $110 billion in resources to help the region recover.

On Monday, Mr. Bush toured the hard-hit town of Biloxi, Mississippi. He praised residents and volunteer workers for their courage and determination in rebuilding. He said about 98 percent of the debris has been removed in Biloxi.

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