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Community Leaders Discuss Future of Gulf Coast

President Bush and other officials observed the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, honoring the dead and touring neighborhoods. Four community leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi share their thoughts on the future of the Gulf Coast.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    It was a day of observance along the Gulf Coast — sad, angry, hopeful — as residents and officials gathered to mark Hurricane Katrina's second anniversary. In Waveland, Mississippi, it began with an interfaith service at daybreak, the same time the hurricane came ashore.

  • HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM:

    Don't forget about us. Don't forget about us. There's still a lot of need here; there's still a lot of hope here. Don't let it pass.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Down the coast in Biloxi, also hit hard, the sentiments were similar.

  • HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM:

    We have a new outlook on life and a new appreciation of what's really important in life. It's not your car, or your clothes, or your possessions. It's being alive and knowing the importance of family and friends.

    RAY NAGIN, Mayor of New Orleans: Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a bell, we want you to ring it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In New Orleans, hundreds gathered and rang bells outside Charity Hospital, which has been closed since the storm. Mayor Ray Nagin helped break ground on a memorial at the hospital that will be the final resting place for more than two dozen unidentified victims. Nagin conceded that his city has not rebounded as much as he would like.

  • RAY NAGIN:

    I know it's hard, and we struggle, and we fight with insurance companies, and we fight with Road Home people, and fight each other, but at the end of the day, let's come together in this third year.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Across town, President Bush marked the anniversary by visiting the region for the second time this year, the 15th time since Katrina hit.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We're still paying attention. We understand.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The president spoke at a rebuilt charter school in the Lower Ninth Ward.

  • GEORGE W. BUSH:

    New Orleans, better days are ahead. It's sometimes hard for people to see progress when you live in a community all the time. Laura and I get to come — we don't live here. We come on occasion. And it's easy to think about what it was like when we first came here after the hurricane and what it's like today. And this town's coming back. This town is better today than it was yesterday, and it's going to be better tomorrow than it was today.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mr. Bush also toured a new home development in the city before heading east to Mississippi, where he applauded the construction of a new bridge in Bay St. Louis.

    More than 1,600 people died in the storm's aftermath throughout the Gulf Coast.

  • KATRINA VICTIMS:

    We want help!

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Nearly 800,000 lost homes. It was the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.

    Federal recovery officials say the government has committed $414 billion in aid, $96 billion of which has been made available to local governments. Much of that was spent on immediate disaster relief rather than long-term recovery, and many residents say they have not received enough of it.

    Several neighborhoods in this city remain in ruins, and clean-up is still a daily ritual. Today, the population in New Orleans is just under two-thirds of what it was before the storm.

  • RAY BELLINGER, Hurricane Katrina Victim:

    They've asked us to come back home, but sometimes I wonder if there's a reason why. Why are we back here, you know? I don't feel safe. I want to cry sometimes when I come out and just look at the houses, the homes. You know, it don't look like people are ever coming back.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Many of the residents feel stranded.

  • ELIZABETH TAYLOR, Hurricane Katrina Victim:

    I'm not used to living like this. And I want to get away. The only thing is, I just don't have the money to get away. But I wish I could get away.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's a different story along the Mississippi coast, where 11 of the state's 13 casinos have reopened, providing jobs for 18,000 people. That's about 1,000 more than before Katrina.

    Many residents in the six affected Mississippi counties have now returned. The population is now 450,000, about 12,000 fewer than before. But many residents share the same concerns their neighbors in Louisiana do about getting the money to rebuild.

  • HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM:

    It was gone. Both locations were gone.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It took a year for Darlene Kimball (ph) to finally reopen one of her restaurants.

  • HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM:

    I said, "Well, they don't want to help me? I don't need it."

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Volunteers continue to flock to the Gulf Coast, helping communities and families rebuild their lives.

  • ABIGAIL YOUNG, Hurricane Katrina Victim:

    We're meeting all these people and finding so much love from people we don't even know. It's great.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Presidential candidates critical of the federal recovery effort flocked to New Orleans this week.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I just don't think that there is a sense of urgency in the White House, where the president is cracking the whip.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Fellow Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards attended a Katrina anniversary forum.

    FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), North Carolina: We need to make sure that the levees are built in a way that the people of New Orleans both feel secure and are secure.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I will pledge to you this: If we don't get done what you deserve to have done by the time I'm president, then when I'm president this will be one of my highest priorities.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Republican candidate Mike Huckabee said Katrina cost his party credibility.

    FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: How do you calculate what it takes to rebuild confidence in a person who has essentially felt that they were abandoned by their own government? And that's one of the realities that we have to address.