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Obama Calls New Orleans a 'Symbol of Resilience' on Katrina Anniversary

  • Michael Bowman

The southern U.S. state of Louisiana on Sunday observed the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans, killed more than 1,800 people in the region and caused some $125 billion in damage. President Barack Obama visited New Orleans to pay tribute to its reconstruction - an effort that continues today.

Hurricane Katrina subjected Louisiana to punishing winds and catastrophic flooding, and exposed the limits of the U.S. government to respond to a major disaster. For weeks after the storm, the world saw heartbreaking images of people stranded without food or shelter, and a federal response that was roundly criticized as slow, chaotic and inadequate.

President Obama acknowledged as much this past weekend in a speech at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. "It was a natural disaster, but also a man-made catastrophe - shameful breakdown in government that left countless men and women and children abandoned and alone," he said.

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The president paid tribute to all who have toiled to rebuild the city, and pledged sustained federal support until the work is done. "Because of you, New Orleans is coming back. Five years ago, many questioned whether people could ever return to this city. Today, New Orleans is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, with a big surge in small businesses," he said.

Katrina's torrential rains and a massive storm surge proved too much for the decades-old levee system in New Orleans. Mr. Obama said that critical weakness is being addressed. "The largest civil works project in American history is underway to build a fortified levee system. And just as I pledged as a candidate, we are going to finish the system by next year, so that this city is protected against a 100-year storm. We should not be playing Russian roulette every hurricane season," he said.

The president noted that America's shores along the Gulf of Mexico recently suffered another tragedy - the BP oil spill. Now that the leak is plugged, Mr. Obama pledged unrelenting government efforts to restore the region's marine habitat.