President Barack Obama promised on Saturday that his administration would not forget what he called a tragic response to Hurricane Katrina. He said he would visit the still-recovering New Orleans before the end of the year. Obama has already dispatched 11 members of the Cabinet to the region to inspect progress and to hear directly local ideas on how to speed up repairs to a region destroyed by flooding four years ago this weekend.
"None of us can forget how we felt when those winds battered the shore, the floodwaters began to rise and Americans were stranded on rooftops and in stadiums," Obama said during his weekly radio and Internet address, released while he is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.
"Whole neighborhoods of a great American city were left in ruins. Communities across the Gulf Coast were forever changed. And many Americans questioned whether government could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis."
Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and leaving behind more than $40 billion in property damage. Hurricane Rita followed almost a month later, with billions of dollars in additional damage and at least 11 more deaths.
Obama acknowledged that recovery has not come at an acceptable pace despite recent moves to speed up the process. "I have also made it clear that we will not tolerate red tape that stands in the way of progress or the waste that can drive up the bill," said Obama. "Government must be a partner not an opponent in getting things done."
Obama's FEMA chief, Craig Fugate, has been cited by Gulf Coast officials and Obama administration officials alike for breaking through the gridlock that has delayed recovery.
Louisana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, recently said he had a lot of respect for Fugate and his team. "There is a sense of momentum and a desire to get things done," he said of the career emergency official.
In half a year, Obama's team says it has cleared at least 75 projects that were in dispute, including libraries, schools and university buildings.
Even so, many towns remain broken, littered with boarded-up houses and overgrown vacant lots. Hundreds of projects including critical needs such as sewer lines, fire stations and a hospital are entangled in the bureaucracy or federal-local disputes over who should pick up the tab.
"No more turf wars," Obama said. "All of us need to move forward together, because there is much more work to be done," he said.