KWAME HOLMAN: Parts of New Orleans were drier today as water continued to be forced out of the city and some activity returned to the downtown area. But aerial views revealed the scope of the devastation that remains from residential neighborhoods still underwater to a foul sludge that flowed into Lake Pontchartrain. A bipartisan delegation of 14 senators including the top party leaders visited the crescent city today and pledged to work together to rebuild it and the surrounding region.
SEN. HARRY REID: There's been no name calling, no finger pointing, and I think that's a lesson we can learn as we take back to Washington. We've got to become a partner with the people of the Gulf oast and see what we can do more quickly to get them to help that they need.
SEN. BILL FRIST: We, again together, will be making sure further resources are made available to rebuild, to reverse the best way we possibly can, the devastation that has happened along the entire coast and here in New Orleans. We'll do it in a responsible way. We'll do it in a fiscally responsible way.
KWAME HOLMAN: The spirit of bipartisanship came on the heels of President Bush's speech to the nation last night, which he delivered from a flood-lit Jackson Square in the otherwise darkened the French Quarter.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do whatever it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the crescent city need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans. And this great city will rise again.
KWAME HOLMAN: And he outlined a plan for moving forward.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I propose the creation of a Gulf opportunity zone encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana, in Mississippi and Alabama. Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment; tax relief for small businesses; incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses including minority-owned enterprises to get them up and running again.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Bush also addressed the issues of race and poverty that were prominent in Katrina's wake.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep persistent poverty in this region as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive -- not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some of those evacuees reacted to the president's speech from a bar in New Orleans.
HOPE KITISIN: My feeling is that it was a uplifting speech. It was very positive. Let's see if he will actually follow through and let's see if he can coordinate the federal, state and local governments to do something about it and to actually fulfill promises to us.
KWAME HOLMAN: A shelter in Baton Rouge.
ELDON O'NEILL: I was quite impressed with it. All I can say is I hope he lives up to the words that he said because he offered to help everybody that was in this disaster.
MELVIN HENDERSON: Well, he said it all. But there ain't nothing being done. He said a lot. He said everything we really wanted to hear. You know, at least some of the things, most of the things we wanted to hear. Is it materializing? Is any red tape being cut through?
KWAME HOLMAN: And outside Houston's Astrodome.
WOMAN: To me, it is a little too late. It is too late. He should have did something more about it.
KWAME HOLMAN: As clean up and reconstruction go forward, the White House today said the cost estimated at some $200 billion would be borne by the nation's taxpayers.