TOPICS > Politics

President Bush’s Speech on Gulf Coast Recovery

August 20, 2008 at 3:20 PM EST
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

PRESIDENT BUSH: Good afternoon. I am pleased to be back in New Orleans. And I appreciate the warm welcome to Jackson Barracks. This facility was built by President Jackson in 1835 to protect the city of New Orleans. Today, it houses brave men and women who share the same goal: the members of the Louisiana National Guard. I thank all of you for your fine service to your State, and to our Nation.

Three years ago, this facility was completely flooded and every building was damaged or destroyed. Today, Jackson Barracks is a growing center of community and economic activity in the heart of the Lower 9th Ward. The story of your recovery is impressive. And it is the same story we see playing out across the Gulf Coast. Homes, businesses, and schools are being rebuilt. Levees are being repaired. Families and communities are being reconnected. And from Biloxi to Beaumont, hope is being restored. The people here today have been an important part of this effort and I thank you for your work.

Three years ago this month, Hurricane Katrina left one of America’s most beloved cities almost completely underwater. The storm forced 800,000 people across the Gulf Coast to leave their homes. Never before had our Nation seen nature’s destruction on such a vast scale. And many wondered whether New Orleans could ever come back.

Three years ago, I stood in Jackson Square and promised that New Orleans would return. Since then, the American taxpayers have committed more than 126 billion dollars for disaster response and recovery on the Gulf Coast. Most of this money is already in the hands of State and local governments and citizens working to rebuild. Together, we are working to make sure that New Orleans comes back – even stronger, safer, and more vibrant than it was before the storm.

There is still a lot of work to do before this city is fully recovered. And for people who are still hurting and not yet back in their homes, a brighter day might seem impossible. Yet a brighter day is coming and it is heralded by hopeful signs of progress.

We see hopeful signs of progress in our work to protect New Orleans from future storms. The Army Corps of Engineers has repaired 220 miles of the levees and the Corps is upgrading the floodwalls so that they are stronger than before Katrina. Because of these efforts, we are on track to meet our goal of 100-year flood protection by the year 2011. To lift a heavy burden on the State’s finances, Governor Jindal requested that Louisiana be allowed to pay the State’s share of the levee improvement costs over 30 years, instead of only three and earlier this month, I granted his request. With this action, we are ensuring that Louisiana will not have to choose between rebuilding its floodwalls, and completing the other projects that are vital to its recovery.

We see hopeful signs of progress as housing is restored. Louisiana’s Road Home program has put nearly 7 billion dollars into the hands of more than 115,000 homeowners. Federal dollars are increasing affordable housing throughout New Orleans. As we rebuild, we are moving away from a failed system of low-income housing projects, and moving toward vibrant mixed-income communities. And each week, hundreds of families are moving out of temporary housing and into long-term homes.

We see hopeful signs of progress in the growth of this area’s economy. New Orleans sales tax revenues are at nearly 90 percent of their pre-storm levels. The city saw 8,000 jobs created in just the last year. The Port of New Orleans is a bustling center of commerce and trade, and Louisiana’s exports now exceed pre-Katrina levels. The Crescent City’s tourism industry is on the rebound, and New Orleans is once again a premier destination for conferences and conventions. I was proud to host the North American Leaders Summit here this spring and it showed that New Orleans is getting back to business.

We see hopeful signs of progress in the city’s improving health-care system. The Department of Health and Human Services has provided more than 2.6 billion dollars to care for the poor and uninsured, offer mental-health services, and support primary-care clinics and hospitals. The Federal government is helping to recruit doctors, nurses, and other health professionals – making sure New Orleans will have the people it needs to care for the city’s growing population. And we are working with Governor Jindal to build a system of community-based clinics that encourages good preventive care and eases the strain on the city’s emergency rooms.

We see hopeful signs of progress in efforts to reduce crime. Federal funds are giving local police and sheriffs essential equipment like cars, computers, and radios. Federal agents are working the streets alongside the New Orleans Police Department. Federal resources are helping the NOPD rebuild its crime lab, and resolve its forensics backlog. Violent crime remains a serious problem but together, we are working to restore safety and justice to New Orleans.

We see hopeful signs of progress in the rebirth of New Orleans education. Today, more than 80 public schools in the city have reopened. About half are now charter schools that offer greater choice and accountability. High schools that once struggled are being transformed into promising career-oriented academies. Public, private, and parochial schools are rebuilding their damaged libraries – thanks to the amazing work Laura has done through her foundation. With help from programs like Teach for America, New Orleans is now a magnet for teachers – talented young people who are excited about helping the city’s children find a brighter future. These changes are already producing results: Test scores across the city have improved significantly.

We see hopeful signs of progress in the return of the normal rhythms of life. More restaurants are now open in New Orleans than before the storm. The Saints are about to start a new season in a refurbished Superdome – with Deuce McAllister carrying the ball. From Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Lacombe to Memorial Baptist Church in Metairie, houses of worship are reopening their doors. Musicians are returning this season to the Mahalia Jackson Theatre. And earlier this year, New Orleans celebrated the return of another sweet sound: the rumble of cable cars on St. Charles Street.

For all of these reasons, we can look with optimism toward the bright future awaiting New Orleans. And the greatest reason for hope is the people who are making this recovery possible. They include the armies of compassion who came from across the country to volunteer more than 14 million hours of service. They include the generous citizens who donated more than 3.5 billion dollars to help their fellow Americans in need.

They include people right here at Jackson Barracks – the citizen-soldiers of the Louisiana National Guard. Even as your headquarters was flooding, guardsmen collected boats, boarded helicopters, fanned out across the city to help with search and rescue and saved lives. Although some of your own homes were in ruins, you worked first to help your neighbors in need. Today, guard members are a vital part of the ongoing reconstruction. You are performing a great service to your city, your State, and your Nation. And you have the thanks of your fellow citizens – including your President.

The people responsible for this city’s recovery include the men and women in this audience, and those seated behind me. These are some of the people Laura and I have met with and been inspired by on our visits to the Gulf Coast. And these are people who show that there is a power far stronger than wind and waves – the determination of the citizens of New Orleans.

I am inspired by people like Daryn Dodson, who I met at a dinner here last year. Daryn was studying at Stanford Business School when Katrina struck and felt called to come to New Orleans to help. He joined Idea Village – a program to support the city’s entrepreneurs and stimulate economic growth. Through Idea Village, Daryn has brought other MBA students from the Nation’s top schools to help solve some of the greatest business challenges facing the city and to help spread the entrepreneurial spirit.

I am inspired by people like Leah Chase. Leah’s restaurant, Dooky Chase, has been a New Orleans institution for several decades. But when Katrina struck, the floodwaters left Leah’s entire restaurant in ruins. She saw her whole life washed away in a few moments, and didn’t know where she’d find the strength to go on. She found it in her faith, family, neighbors, friends, and even total strangers. Here in New Orleans, the community held fundraisers to help Leah rebuild. High-school students from all over the country spent their spring breaks helping to gut and rebuild the restaurant. A group of friends in Indiana donated new chairs for her dining room. Today, Dooky Chase is open for business.

I am inspired by people like Doris Hicks. Doris is the principal of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology here in the Lower 9th Ward. Laura and I had a chance to visit the school last year. After Katrina, the flooding at MLK was so bad that when the waters finally receded, fish were found on the school’s second floor. Doris was told that she couldn’t reopen until 2010 but she knew the kids couldn’t wait that long. Doris mobilized parents, teachers, and the entire community. She agreed to turn the school into a charter. MLK is open today, and families are moving to the community just so they can return to the school. Doris puts it this way: “There’s no other place like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and there’s no other place like New Orleans.”

There is no other place like New Orleans. Every time I have come to this city, I have been inspired by its extraordinary character. Only here does a stay-at-home mom mobilize her neighbors to clear thousands of tons of debris. Only here does a barber set up shop at the gas station to cut hair for National Guardsmen. Only here do restaurant workers rush to clean up their flooded café so they can serve hot red beans and rice to first responders, construction crews, and returning evacuees. In countless quiet acts, New Orleans has shown that the cruelty of a storm is no match for the kindness of a strong community. This is why New Orleans is coming back and this is why it will continue to come back better than ever before. May God bless you, may God bless your great city, and may God bless America.