Bush: Support, not symbolism, best way to remember victims of Katrina

Published 6:20 pm Thursday, August 24, 2006

President Bush cautioned against placing too much importance on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s Gulf Coast strike, saying a long, sustained rebuilding effort is still needed.

“It’s a time to remember that people suffered and it’s a time to recommit ourselves to helping them,” Bush said Wednesday. “But I also want people to remember that a one-year anniversary is just that, because it’s going to require a long time to help these people rebuild.”

A day earlier, the Bush administration’s Gulf Coast coordinator, Don Powell, said $44 billion has been spent to get the still-battered region back on its feet. A far larger sum — more than $110 billion — has been designated for the massive rebuilding project. Of that money, approximately $17 billion will help rebuild an estimated 204,000 homes in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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Bush spoke on the South Lawn of the White House after meeting in the Oval Office with a New Orleans-area man who lost his home in the storm. Rockey Vaccarella, 41, of Meraux in St. Bernard Parish, has been traveling the Gulf Coast region to mark the Katrina anniversary.

Nearly a year after the hurricane, criticism lingered.

In a report entitled “Broken Promises,” House and Senate Democratic leaders described what they called “the failed response” of the administration since the hurricane hit.

Released Wednesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, D-Nev., the report asserted that “thousands of families are still waiting” for FEMA trailers and that a significant proportion of money that FEMA has spent there “has been waste, fraud and abuse.”

“The Republican Congress didn’t enact needed housing money for homeowners in Louisiana until June, 10 months after Katrina — and the money has still failed to reach these homeowners,” it said.

For his part, Bush promised to continue working to make sure the federal government’s efforts in the rebuilding effort are efficient.

“I told Rockey the first obligation of the federal government is to write a check big enough to help the people down there,” Bush said. “And I told him that to the extent that there’s still bureaucratic hurdles, and the need for the federal government to help eradicate those hurdles, we want to do that.”

Vaccarella said he wanted to thank Bush for the federally provided trailers that have provided temporary housing to many in the region who lost homes, but also to keep the pressure on.

“I wanted to remind the president that the job’s not done and he knows that,” Vaccarell said. “I just don’t want the government and President Bush to forget about us.”

The president was designating Tuesday, the Katrina anniversary, as a National Day of Remembrance to honor those who lost lives and property and those who helped rescue victims, said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Bush is spending two days in the Gulf region next week to mark the anniversary. He will be in Mississippi on Monday, to have lunch with community leaders, walk through a neighborhood, and deliver a speech on the rebuilding effort, before traveling to New Orleans, where he was scheduled to have dinner with state and local official and spend the night. On Tuesday, Bush is attending a service of prayer and remembrance, conducting a roundtable discussion on an effort headed by first lady Laura Bush to restock Gulf Coast libraries. He also will give a speech and visit with local residents, Perino said.