Bush Says "Hope Coming Back" To Big Easy

On the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush visits the Louisiana National Guard at their headquarters in the historic Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, where he spoke about rebuilding the Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
AP Photo/J.Scott Applewhite
President Bush said Wednesday that "hope is coming back" to New Orleans with the help of $126 billion in disaster aid poured into the Gulf Coast region over three years after Hurricane Katrina.

Bush tempered his upbeat remarks by acknowledging much more work must be done.

He spoke before a friendly audience at Jackson Barracks, a historic Louisiana National Guard post badly damaged by Katrina. The crowd gave a standing ovation when Bush said he recently agreed to a request by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state leaders to give Louisiana 30 years to repay $1.8 billion for levee improvements in the New Orleans area. The money initially was to be repaid by 2011.

State officials said they needed 30 years to avoid hurting a still-recovering economy.

Bush seemed in no hurry to get through his prepared remarks, spending the first few minutes acknowledging Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and other notables. The bad blood between city officials and the White House after the Bush administration's bungled response to the Katrina disaster was set aside, at least for the moment.

"The mayor and I have had some quality time," Bush said of his difficult history with Nagin.

"The good future is here," Bush said. "I predicted New Orleans would come back as a stronger and better city. We helped deliver $126 billion in taxpayer money."

"Who would have thought three years after the storm the president could come and say, `New Orleans, La., is on its way back as a stronger and better city."' Bush said.

"I think the message here today is hope is being restored. Hope is coming back."

New Orleans resident Kaaren Grimes says she's willing to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, but says the federal money he promised was not enough to keep people like her from going into debt after the storm, reports CBS affiliate WWL-TV in New Orleans .

"I'm thinking he's done the best that he could, but we have to deal with all the different layers that come down under him through the feds, the state, the local level," Grimes said.

Nagin talked about the promises President Bush made in Jackson Square in the dark days after Katrina.

"We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," Bush said that night in 2005 from Jackson Square.

"The promise is still unfulfilled as far as I'm concerned," Nagin said.

Nagin says so far the city has received less than a third of the money promised to help rebuild public buildings and infrastructure, reports WWL-TV.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in an interview with The Associated Press this week that the New Orleans recovery was far from complete and that key projects won't be finished without more federal money.

Following Bush's speech at Jackson Barracks, Landrieu released a statement saying too much of the money has been lost to red tape and government inefficiency.

"Let no one suffer the illusion that $126 billion has gone straight to where it is needed and where it belongs," Landrieu said.

Bush traveled to New Orleans and later to nearby Gulfport, Miss., after appearing at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando, Fla.

In Gulfport, Bush had dinner at a downtown restaurant with business owners and local and state leaders, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

"Are there still people wondering about their future? Absolutely," Bush told reporters afterward. "But things are better here on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi."

Bush returned to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Wednesday evening.