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Bush Marks Katrina Anniversary

President Bush meets a group of soldiers after landing at Kessler Air Force base on Monday, Aug. 28, 2006 in Biloxi, Miss. President Bush on Monday marked the anniversary of the hurricane that still haunts his presidency with worries that a new tropical storm could bring the first test of his promise that the botched post-Katrina response will not be repeated
AP
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.