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Bush: Government to Help Rebuild Gulf Coast


President Bush says the federal government will play a major role in rebuilding areas destroyed by last year's record hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

On his first visit to the Gulf Coast in three months, President Bush says he has seen remarkable progress since Hurricane Katrina struck last August.

"I can remember coming here the times I came and looked hard in people's eyes and saw a sense of desperation and worry and deep, deep concern about the future," said Mr. Bush. "I am sure there is still concern about the future, but the eyes have cleared up. There's a sense of optimism. There's a hope. There's a little bounce in people's step."

Speaking at a college in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Mr. Bush said the federal government has allocated 85 billion dollars for reconstruction efforts, $25 billion of which has already been spent.

While stopping short of guaranteeing that rebuilt levees will withstand a category five storm, federal officials say the new levees will offer the best protection the Gulf Coast has ever seen.

Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

Immediately following the storm, opposition Democrats and many of the people affected by Katrina criticized President Bush for a slow federal response. Mr. Bush acknowledges some of those mistakes and says he is constantly looking for ways to do things better.

"We've learned some lessons about Katrina, and we are going to analyze every lesson learned," he added. "Obviously the federal response in parts of this devastated area could have been a lot better. We want to know how to make them better. We want to make sure that when there is a catastrophe of any kind, this government, at the federal level, is capable of dealing with it in conjunction with the state and local governments."

Before his speech in Mississippi, Mr. Bush met with small business owners and local government officials in New Orleans, much of which was flooded by the storm.

He praised the city's rebuilding effort and encouraged investors and visitors to return, saying New Orleans is a great place to have a convention and a "heck of a place to bring your family."