Friday 23 February 2018

Barack Obama: New Orleans 'moving forward' a decade after Hurricane Katrina

President Barack Obama greets residents of New Orleans
President Barack Obama greets residents of New Orleans

Walking door to door in a city reborn after tragedy, President Barack Obama said New Orleans is moving forward a decade after Hurricane Katrina.

He offered the city as an example of what can happen when people rally to build a better future after suffering a devastating blow.

The president's first stop on a visit marking the storm's 10th anniversary was Treme, one of the oldest black neighbourhoods in America and an area that experienced significant flooding during Katrina.

A cheering crowd welcomed him to an area where homes inundated by the storm have been rebuilt.

As the president went from house to house, he chatted with residents, calling out, "How you doing?" and, "We appreciate you."

Reflecting on the improved surroundings, Mr Obama declared, "The fact that we can make this many strides 10 years after a terrible epic disaster, I think, is an indication of the kind of spirit we have in this city."

It was an informal version of the broader message Mr Obama planned to deliver later at a newly opened community centre in the Lower 9th Ward, one of the hardest-hit areas of the city and one that is still struggling to recover.

"Not long ago, our gathering here in the Lower 9th might have seemed unlikely," Mr Obama said in speech excerpts released in advance by the White House. "But today, this new community centre stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city and its people, of the entire Gulf Coast, indeed, of the United States of America. You are an example of what's possible when, in the face of tragedy and hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and to build a better future."

Mr Obama was a new US senator when Katrina's powerful winds and driving rain bore down on Louisiana on August 29 2005. The storm caused major damage to the Gulf Coast from Texas to central Florida while powering a storm surge that breached the system of levees meant to protect New Orleans from flooding.

Nearly 2,000 people died, most in New Orleans, as 80% of the city was flooded for weeks. One million people were displaced.

Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops, inside the Superdome and at the convention centre dominated news coverage as Katrina came to symbolise government failure at every level. The storm went down in history as the costliest natural disaster to strike the US.

In his planned speech, Mr Obama said Katrina helped expose structural inequalities that long plagued New Orleans and left too many people, especially minorities, without good jobs, affordable health care or decent housing and too many kids growing up in the midst of violent crime and attending inefficient schools.

Ten years out from Katrina, the rebirth under way in New Orleans has been helped by billions of dollars in federal recovery money, much of it funnelled to the city under Mr Obama's watch. The city has recovered much of its pre-storm population, new businesses are opening faster than the national average and better flood protection plans are in place.

Press Association

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