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Obama Visits New Orleans to Gauge Recovery

President Obama flew to New Orleans on Thursday to assess the city's recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Margaret Warner reports.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    President Obama went to New Orleans today to check the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina. He praised the city's people for not giving up, and he promised again to speed the process.

    Margaret Warner has our lead story report.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    When Air Force One touched down late this morning, it brought President Obama to New Orleans for the first time since taking office. He visited five times during the presidential campaign. Then, he roundly criticized the Bush administration for the way it responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the pace of rebuilding since then.

  • U.S PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    It's not acceptable that federal money is not reaching communities that need it, or that Louisiana officials have filled out millions of forms just to get reconstruction funds. It is time to cut the red tape, so that the federal government is a partner, not an opponent, in getting things done.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The federal government has been heavily involved in the region since Katrina swept through, killing 1,600 people and wreaking $40 billion of damage across the Gulf Coast.

    In all, Washington committed tens of billions of dollars to rebuilding the region before Mr. Obama took office and another $1.4 billion since then.

    Today, Mr. Obama's first stop highlighted New Orleans' progress and pain, a reopened school across from a community center slated for demolition.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    Because everybody worked hard, everybody kept hopeful, everybody was determined to rebuild, you now see just a school that is doing much better than it was ever doing before the storm.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The school is in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, the low-lying mostly African-American area that was inundated by the storm surge from Katrina.

    It was the last portion of the city to reopen to residents, and abandoned buildings still blight the landscape. Overall, the city of New Orleans is much smaller than it was, just over 300,000 people, compared to 455,000 before Katrina.

    But, at a town hall today, the president hailed the city's comeback efforts.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    There are still people coming to this city, especially young people, who are committed to its future, who are ready and willing to withstand what storms may come, eager to rebuild something better in place of what was.