U.S. President Barack Obama visited New Orleans, Louisiana Thursday, where some people say his administration is not doing enough to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged region. It has been four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.
In his first visit to the region as president, Mr. Obama assured an audience at the University of New Orleans that rebuilding their city and the surrounding area is one of his priorities. "We will not forget about New Orleans. We are going to keep on working. We are not going to forget about the Gulf Coast. Together we will rebuild this region and we will rebuild it stronger than before. It is going to be stronger than before," he said.
But one man in the question-and-answer session asked why the government is taking so long to reimburse people for their damages, and in smaller amounts than needed. "I mean, I expected as much from the Bush administration, but why are we still being nickled and dimed in our recovery?," the man said.
The president replied that he understands people's frustration, but is doing his best. "I know that since a lot of these problems have been going on since Katrina happened, people understandably feel impatient. On the other hand, these things were not all going to be fixed tomorrow. So we are working as hard as we can, as quickly as we can, to process through many of these issues," he said.
When Katrina hit in August, 2005, about 1,600 people were killed in Louisiana and Mississippi, and damages have been estimated at about $40 billion.
The storm was also a political disaster for President Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, whose response was widely criticized as slow and inadequate.
Mr. Obama, then a U.S. Senator, accused the Bush administration of standing by while a major American city drowns.
Now, as president, Mr. Obama is taking heat from people in the Gulf Coast region who say he is not doing enough, either.
The president said he had come to New Orleans to listen to residents' concerns. "Whether you are driving through New Orleans, Biloxi, or the southern part of Louisiana, it is clear how far we have to go before we can call this recovery a real success. There are sewers and roads still to repair. There are houses and hospitals still vacant. There are schools and neighborhoods still waiting to thrive once more," he said.
Some critics in the region faulted the president for only spending several hours in New Orleans, and for skipping the state of Mississippi on his visit.
However, Mr. Obama said his administration has worked hard and made progress in helping the area rebuild. "Over the last nine months, we have sent more Cabinet members to this region than almost anywhere in the country, not just to make appearances, but to listen and to learn and help you move forward," he said.
The president said his administration has sent more than $1.4 billion in additional aid to help rebuild Louisiana. And he said reconstruction projects are moving forward after settlement of disputes over whether the state or federal government should pay for them.
Before the meeting, Mr. Obama visited a local school, which he said was doing much better than four years ago.