(CNSNews.com) - President Bush Tuesday marked the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La., by taking responsibility for the federal government's response to the disaster, detailing the progress made so far in the rebuilding efforts as well as how much more needs to be done.
"I take full responsibility for the federal government's response. And a year ago I made a pledge that we would learn the lessons of Katrina and that we would do what it takes to help you recover," Bush said, speaking at Warren Easton Senior High School, the oldest public school in New Orleans, which is scheduled to reopen in a week.
"I've come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then," said the president.
Bush said the Army Corps of Engineers has been working nonstop to repair 350 miles of the system and make it stronger.
"We're storm-proofing the pumping stations, and the pumping stations' capacities are being increased. We're elevating electrical systems so that they can work during a flood," the president added.
"Today almost the entire electrical system has been restored to pre-Katrina level. And in many places, the system is now better than it was before Katrina. We're working to make the levees stronger by 2010, and we will study what we need to do to get New Orleans under greater protection," Bush said.
The president said in order to make sure the levee system works, "there has to be a barrier system to protect the state of Louisiana."
Bush urged Congress to pass energy legislation that will give Louisiana "more revenues from offshore leases so they can restore the levees."
One year later, more than three-quarters of the debris from the storm has been cleared, Bush said, and the federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the reimbursement costs at the end of the year to the hardest hit parishes.
The challenge now, the president said, is getting people back into their homes. "We need to get homes available for people. A renewed New Orleans is a New Orleans with new homes. Everybody understands that," he said.
"Trailers are only temporary. The goal is to make sure that communities are restored," said Bush.
Congress has authorized more than $100 billion for the recovery efforts, Bush said, and he trusts that local leaders will make the right decisions for their community on how that money should be spent.
The Bush administration is working with the Louisiana Recovery Authority to provide funds to homeowners to cover costs not covered by insurance or other federal assistance. Under the program, eligible homeowners will receive up to $150,000 for damages.
"All of us agree at all levels of government that we gotta get the money as quickly as possible in the hands of the people, so they can rebuild their lives and help this city recover," said Bush.
The Congressional Black Caucus marked the anniversary of Katrina by criticizing the federal government for being "negligent in its promise to provide stable rental assistance or to help those who lost their homes rebuild."
"There has been little progress and no plan developed by the Bush Administration to restore the region or make survivors whole," Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement.
"In the aftermath of the disaster, President Bush and congressional Republicans made many promises to the desperate residents of the region, but most of those promises have been broken," added Watt.
The CBC noted that many of the city's public schools are still destroyed, with less than half reopening this fall, and fewer students are in Louisiana public colleges.
Also, thousands of Katrina survivors are still homeless and displaced while many are still waiting for FEMA trailers, the group said in a news release.
The Bush administration "has inexplicably blocked bi-partisan efforts to create a redevelopment corporation for Louisiana," said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), whose city was also hit by Katrina. He said thousands of Louisianans "have never received federal help in rebuilding their lives and their property."
"The tragedies and atrocities of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will not soon be forgotten, as millions of Americans continue to cope with the aftermath," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), whose district was hit by the hurricanes.
"There is hope, however, as communities are working together to rebuild, despite the lack of assistance from many federal and state leaders. It will take time, but I absolutely believe that the Gulf Coast will once again thrive and flourish," added Thompson.
See Earlier Story:
Mississippi Making 'Progress' in Katrina Recovery, Bush Says (Aug. 28, 2006)
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