Bush Offers Hope To Gulf Coast

President Bush concludes his remarks following his nationally televised address from Jackson Square in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005. Bush announced a new reconstruction plan to help rebuild the area damaged by Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Bush is urging Congress to approve a massive reconstruction program for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and promising that the federal government will review the disaster plans of every major American city.

It was the president's attempt to get beyond the failures following Hurricane Katrina and snatch the initiative, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante. Speaking to the nation from the heart of New Orleans, Mr. Bush promised massive federal help to reconstruct the Gulf area.

"There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again," the president said from the French Quarter's Jackson Square.

"Tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," President Bush said.

For evacuees, Mr. Bush promised continued help to locate loved ones and to find housing in apartments or temporary housing.

"Our goal is to get people out of shelters by the middle of October," he said.

In a few days, residents will begin moving back into the city, speeding the revival of the economy in places like the French Quarter — the bawdy enclave that suffered relatively minor damage in the hurricane but is still without electricity.

Mayor Ray Nagin announced plans Thursday to reopen some of New Orleans' most vibrant and least flood-ravaged neighborhoods over the next week and a half, including the French Quarter. The move could bring back more than 180,000 of the city's original half-million residents.

In other developments:

  • Lawmakers were working to assist hurricane survivors who need quick access to cash, housing and medical care. The House and Senate passed bills to let victims tap retirement accounts without penalty and help some families retain tax credits.
  • The Labor Department reported that the hurricane triggered the biggest one-week surge in jobless claims in nearly a decade.
  • Mississippi has sued insurers to force them to pay billions of dollars in flood damage, saying standard insurance polices led homeowners to believe they were covered for all hurricane damage, whether from high winds or storm surges.
  • Large sections of New Orleans remain accessible only by boat, and corpses can still be seen out in the open.
  • Many who owned their home had no flood insurance and little savings now are worried, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston. Developers are reportedly seeking to buy as much land as possible in the city, and houses under water for more than two weeks probably will be knocked down, raising a delicate the question: Who will be able to come back to the new New Orleans?
  • More than 400 truckers and their rigs, loaded with Katrina relief supplies, are sitting at the John Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss., at big taxpayer expense, reports Amanda Lamb of CBS affiliate WRAL-TV. That's because there is a decreasing need for the supplies in the Gulf Coast areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. Some of the truckers are being paid as much as $1,000 a day by FEMA.