NEW ORLEANS — Five years after Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, President Barack Obama sought to reassure disaster-weary Gulf Coast residents Sunday that he would not abandon their cause.
“My administration is going to stand with you, and fight alongside you, until the job is done,” Obama said to cheers at Xavier University, a historically black, Catholic university that was badly flooded by the storm.
The president said there are still too many vacant lots, trailers serving as classrooms, displaced residents and people out of work. But he said New Orleanians have shown amazing resilience.
“Because of you,” the president said, “New Orleans is coming back.”
Obama spoke five years to the day from when Hurricane Katrina roared onshore in Louisiana, tearing through levees and flooding 80 percent of New Orleans. More than 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast died, mostly in Louisiana.
Even as the region struggled to put despair behind it, hardship struck again this year in the form of the BP oil spill. More than 200 million gallons of oil surged into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was capped in mid-July. New Orleans’ economy, heavily dependent on tourism and the oil and gas industry, was set back anew.
“The second promise I made was that we would stick with our efforts, and stay on BP, until the damage to the Gulf and to the lives of the people in this region was reversed,” Obama said. “And this, too, is a promise we will keep.”
But Obama’s speech didn’t offer any new plans for restoring the Gulf, bringing New Orleans’ fast-disappearing wetlands back to life or cleaning up BP’s spilled oil. Some residents had hoped Obama would take the opportunity to announce an early end to the deepwater drilling moratorium he enacted after the spill. But he made no mention of the moratorium, which people here say is costing jobs.
Obama did offer a list of accomplishments on Katrina recovery he said his administration has achieved, including helping move residents out of temporary housing, streamlining money for schools and restoration projects, and working to rebuild the poorly maintained levee system that failed the city when Katrina struck.
He promised that work on a fortified levee system would be finished by next year.