Live

Watch CBSN Live

Bush Marks Katrina Anniversary

Visiting the Gulf Coast on a two-day tour, President Bush said Monday the huge job of rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina was just beginning a year after the massive storm, but expressed hope that the $110 billion of help sent from Washington would be enough.

Trying to erase the black mark left on his presidency by the administration's sluggish response to Katrina, Mr. Bush returned to the first scene he saw a year ago of the storm's devastation in Biloxi, Miss.

Standing on a vacant lot in a working class neighborhood where trailers and gutted buildings stand next to newly built homes, President Bush pledged the federal government would stand with the region as it rebuilds. It's a promise viewed with skepticism by victims still reeling from the storm.

"A year ago, I committed our federal government to help you," Mr. Bush said. "I said, 'We have a duty to help the local people recover and rebuild,' and I meant what I said."

CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports the president is hitting twin themes on this tour – recovery from the worst natural disaster in American history will need more than a year, and that federal help is on the way.

"The checks have begun to roll," Mr. Bush said. "They're beginning to move."

Meanwhile, 15 Democratic members of Congress gathered in the French Quarter during the morning for a bus tours of stricken areas. They planned to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast later in the day.

The Democrats' trip was led by Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans, who said the recovery is slow because of the complexity of the issues involved and concerns that many evacuees have about returning.

"We've got a lot of work to do. We have to have a visit and stay committed to it," Jefferson said.

The president was set to visit Mississippi on Monday, then go to New Orleans for events on Tuesday marking the anniversary, his 13th visit to the Gulf Coast since Katrina.

Meanwhile, another part of the South was a under hurricane watch as Tropical Storm Ernesto seemed to move toward Florida's densely populated Atlantic coast on Monday. Residents there stocked up on fuel, water and other storm supplies, as officials and journalists hypothesized on whether New Orleans' levees could handle another Katrina-sized storm.

The president's optimism is not shared in New Orleans, where a year later, the population has been more than cut in half, and a third of Katrina-related garbage has yet to be picked up, Axelrod reports.

But federal emergency officials say one major step to recovery is solid: The New Orleans levee system is ready for another major hurricane, despite the less-optimistic views of other political leaders and engineers.

"I think we're in good shape," Don Powell, the Bush administration's coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, said Sunday. "There's no question in my mind. We're ready."

The levees failed after Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm, roared ashore a year ago, flooding New Orleans. The levees were built to withstand a Category 3 storm; the highest level is Category 5.

"We are ready for a hurricane regardless of where it's going to hit," said David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Paulison told Bob Schieffer on CBS's Face The Nation Sunday that FEMA has been working very closely with Louisiana to make sure "they have good, solid evacuation plans in place."

"We all know, as the governor said earlier, that people cannot ride out these storms in a travel trailer or a mobile home; they have to be evacuated," Paulison said.

In other developments:

  • Violent crime is a problem in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin has said, and mental health is a city-wide woe, but it's estimated that only half of the city's 2,300 doctors have returned since the storm — and there are even fewer nurses, CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports. "It's full out, emergency medicine, sick people and lots of 'em, all day long," emergency services specialist Dr. Tracy Legros told Cowan.
  • A new survey reveals that the traumatized survivors of Hurricane Katrina forged a surprisingly powerful inner strength that steeled them against suicidal despair. The study is the most elaborate post-storm survey yet. It shows that while the survivors suffered twice as much mental illness as the pre-storm population, they contemplated suicide far less often than mentally ill people surveyed before Katrina.
  • An unemployed man admitted Monday that he submitted more than 50 false applications for government aid following Hurricane Katrina and collected more than $76,000 in disaster relief checks. Jeffrey Rothschild, 59, pleaded guilty in federal court to mail fraud, bank fraud and money laundering.
  • Ticket sales have been far from spectacular, but Ivan Neville says performing at the same Hurricane Katrina anniversary concert Tuesday night as Stevie Wonder is going to be incredible no matter how many people are there. "What an honor," said the New Orleans keyboardist and singer, and son of Neville Brothers singer Aaron Neville.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which says it repaired and reinforced 220 miles of levee walls, has been closely monitoring the storm, which could hit soon after Tuesday's anniversary of Katrina.

    "I believe that the levees are ready for hurricane season," Powell said. The levees are back to where they were pre-Katrina, and they're on their way to being the best — better and stronger — than they have ever been."

    Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the levee repairs alone aren't enough. "They're back up to Category 3," she said. "We need to get them up to Category 5, and we are working to do that."

    New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said the city was ready — but only to evacuate.

    "You will never see a replay of last year, as long as I'm the mayor of the city," he said Sunday. "It's the storm surge that's really the major concern. ... We don't expect the catastrophic failures."

    But is New Orleans ready for another hurricane?

    "I think we're ready for another hurricane like Katrina," Nagin told CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts 60 Minutes.

    How would Nagin evacuate people differently in the event of another storm?

    "We're getting everybody out. And we're gonna use every medium available," Nagin says. "No shelter of last resort, buses, trains, planes. Everybody's gotta go."

    FEMA's response to the hurricane's destruction across the Gulf Coast has been widely criticized.

    Gil Jamieson, FEMA deputy director for Gulf Coast Recovery told CBSNews.com's Jennifer Hoar that despite that, Hurricane Katrina was "a catastrophic disaster, far greater challenge than everything we've faced so far." He said he hopes that "when the final chapter is written, this should be viewed as a Herculean effort."

    And FEMA is far from done with its work along the Gulf Coast.

    In Mississippi and Louisiana, FEMA will be present "until recovery is complete ... estimate about six to seven years," Jamieson said.

    The majority of Americans say the government still is not doing all it could — or should — to help the storm's victims, a new CBS News poll found. Read the poll results.

    In the badly flooded Mid City neighborhood, the congregation of First United Baptist Church still holds services under a tent outside its battered building.

    "We have a lot of work in this neighborhood," the Rev. Marshall Truehill Jr. told congregants on Sunday. He challenged them to go door to door to find people in need of help, including anyone who would need a ride out of town if another hurricane hits New Orleans.

    The Lower Ninth Ward is exempt from the gutting deadline, although residents will be expected to take care of their damaged houses by an unspecified date.

    Others may be exempt, too, if they have an "acceptable" excuse, such as being on the list for a gutting service that hasn't gotten around to their property yet. Enforcement could begin any time after Tuesday.

    On Sunday, NAACP President and CEO Bruce S. Gordon led a walking tour of the Lower Ninth Ward to a neighborhood memorial Sunday. Gordon said he believes government, on all levels, continues to fail residents in that still-devastated neighborhood.

    "None of us should feel good about where we stand now," Gordon said during dedication of a monument to the neighborhood's storm victims.

    City officials hope to accelerate the cleanup with the Tuesday deadline for homeowners. People who don't comply with it after being put on notice face a range of possible penalties, from liens being placed on their property to the seizure or destruction of homes.

    Some residents hope the deadline will spur a cleanup that will lead to more redevelopment and repopulation after the exodus that followed Katrina.

    "To see a home cleaned up, even if it's not occupied, does a lot psychologically," said Bari Landry. She said she sees signs of life in the flooded Lakeview neighborhood, but also signs of disaster: deserted houses, windows and doors standing wide open, and roof-high weeds.

    Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose has been covering victims and the effort to rebuild. Rose has since written a collection of his columns called "1 Dead in Attic." Rose said one of the stories that doesn't get told by the national media is the mental toll.

    "We seem like a very sorrowful and pitiful group of people right now. And the nation knows that ain't us," Rose said. "That's not the way it usually is."

    What doesn't the rest of the country see?

    "Having to live through this slog day after day, trying to function in a dysfunctional city dealing with the sorrows and despairs of your neighbors," Rose said. Watch an interview with Rose.

    Will the physical and the mental be repaired? Will New Orleans come back? The president of City Council told CBS News he's betting on it.

    "Absolutely. I was a hurricane Betsy survivor. Now look. We had 15, 20 feet of water right here. They said the lower Ninth Ward would never come back," Thomas told Smith. "Forty years later, a new storm had to hit, and we came back."