Obama, Bush visit Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina's 10th anniversary

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President Obama held out the people of New Orleans as an extraordinary example of renewal and resilience 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. (KGO-TV)

Visiting residents on tidy porch stoops and sampling the fried chicken at a corner restaurant, President Barack Obama held out the people of New Orleans on Thursday as an extraordinary example of renewal and resilience 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"There's something in you guys that is just irrepressible," Obama told hundreds of residents assembled at a bustling new community center in an area of the Lower 9th Ward that was once under 17 feet of water. "The people of New Orleans didn't just inspire me, you inspired all of America."

He held out the city's comeback as a metaphor for what's happening all across a nation that has moved from economic crisis to higher ground.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Katrina's 10th anniversary

"Look at what's happened here," he declared, speaking of a transformed American city that was once "dark and underwater."

Still, Obama acknowledged that much remains to be done. And after walking door to door in the historic Treme section of a city reborn from tragedy, he cautioned that "just because the housing is nice doesn't mean our job is done."

Areas of the city still suffer from high poverty, he said, and young people still take the wrong path.

There is more to be done to confront "structural inequities that existed long before the storm happened," he added.

In his remarks at the community center, Obama blended the same themes of resilience and renewal that he drew from encounters with the sturdy residents he met along Magic Street and at other locations.

VIDEO: Cal students continue to rebuild in New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

Leah Chase, 92, was one of those to chat with Obama, and pronounced herself a fan of the man, saying he'd handled "a rough road."

"That's all you have to do: handle what's handed to you," Chase said, voicing what could be a credo for the city.

Obama was clearly energized by his visits, at one point breaking into a song from "The Jeffersons" sitcom after meeting a young woman who calls herself "Ouisie." He stopped for fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House, and pronounced the resulting grease stain on his suit a good indication that he'd enjoyed his stay in the city.

He held out the community center as "an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand and, brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future."

"And that more than any other reason is why I've come back here today," he said.

Obama was a new U.S. senator when Katrina's powerful winds and driving rain bore down on Louisiana on Aug. 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. Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops, inside the Superdome and at the convention center dominated news coverage as Katrina came to symbolize government failure at every level.

In his speech, Obama said Katrina helped expose 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.

The setting of his address at the community center spoke to the stark contrasts that remain. It sits near nicely renovated homes but also next to a boarded-up wooden house. The area is filled with vacant lots where houses used to stand, so overgrown that local residents sometimes refer to it as the wilderness and worry about snakes hiding in the grass.

Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, cautioned against slapping too happy a face on New Orleans, saying "rebuilding since the storm favors privileged private enterprise and this illusion of recovery is not progress."

City residents, too, spoke of uneven recovery.

"I think we have a long way to go," said Lisa Ross, 52, an appraiser. She said areas frequented by tourists have recovered tremendously but many neighborhoods have struggled.

Harold Washington, 54, a military retiree studying at Tulane, said the city is "better than it was." But he was sad that children are now bused all over town rather than attending neighborhood schools.

Obama spoke hopefully of coming back to New Orleans after his presidency - when he can go to Mardi Gras and sample other delights.

"Right now," he said, "I just go to meetings."

Former President Bush also visited New Orleans - the scene of one of his presidency's lowest points - to remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

He's also coming to tout the region's recovery from the costliest natural disaster in the nation.

Bush spoke Friday at a ceremony at Warren Easton Charter High School.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the state took over almost all the city's schools, which had been widely criticized before Katrina for failing to provide a good quality education.

Now almost all the city's schools are charter schools.

Bush praised the schools' progress, saying that parents have more choices and that teachers and principals have less bureaucracy hindering their work.

Critics have questioned the progress of the schools and lament the loss of neighborhood schools.

Bush was accompanied by his wife, Laura.

Bush has arrived in Gulfport, Mississippi, where hundreds of people gathered in a beachside park to salute emergency responders who worked during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Bush spoke Friday, saluting then-Gov. Haley Barbour, as well as U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and former Sen. Trent Lott.

Bush says that during Katrina and its aftermath, there was "an impressive display of leadership down here on the Gulf Coast." He called off the names of those were then the mayors of Mississippi Coast cities and the supervisors of its counties.

Bush says the 10th anniversary of the storm is "a good time to honor courage and resolve."

The former president also says he remembers how much damage was done on the coast.

He told those gathered: "It may be hard to see how much progress has been made. You've made a lot."

He told those gathered: "It may be hard to see how much progress has been made. You've made a lot."
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