President Obama on Sunday applauded New Orleans as a "symbol of resilience" amid a devastating Hurricane Katrina, whose damage five years ago he said was compounded by a "manmade catastrophe" that was "a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, women, and children abandoned and alone."
Speaking at Xavier University on the fifth anniversary of the storm's hitting Louisiana and the levees protecting the city being overwhelmed, the president said he doesn't want to dwell on the devastation but focus on what has risen from the deluge.
New Orleans "could've remained a symbol of destruction and decay ... laid low by indifference and neglect. But that's not what happened," the president said. "It is true that this city has become a symbol. But it's a symbol of resilience, of community, of the fundamental responsibility we have for one another."
The storm killed more than 1,800 people along the Gulf coast and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. Twenty-seven percent of homes are still shuttered and 100,000 people have yet to return to the city.
Even so, the president said that the Big Easy is among the fastest growing cities in the nation. Musicians' Village in the 9th Ward has 70 new homes constructed. Xavier itself had been forced to close after the storm hit, but opened four months later.
And where tragedy had been embodied by a destroyed Superdome stadium, the city now has a Super Bowl trophy following the New Orleans Saints' win in Super Bowl XLIV in February. The Saints were celebrated at a White House ceremony two weeks ago.
"We marked the occasion with a 30-foot po'boy made with shrimp and oysters from the Gulf. There were no leftovers," Obama said.
But where the signs of devastation persist and are taking their toll, the president said he wants to make sure the government is a partner, not an obstacle to recovery
"My administration is going to stand with you -- and fight alongside you -- until the job is done, until New Orleans is all the way back, all the way," he said.
Obama said the Department of Justice is working with New Orleans law enforcement to "fight the scourge of violent crime." The Education Department has freed up nearly $2 billion for Orleans Parish schools. A new Veterans Administration hospital opened up in June. And red tape for more than 170 projects, including firehouses, police stations, roads, sewer systems, health clinics, libraries and universities, is being untangled.
"We're helping homeowners rebuild and making it easier for renters to find affordable options. And we're helping people to move out of temporary homes. ... We've helped make it possible for people to find (permanent) homes, dramatically reducing the number of families in emergency housing," he said.
Obama said that disaster recovery plans are also a priority of his administration, and he noted his administration's response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that sent 5 billion barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico this spring and summer.
The Obama administration was widely criticized for a slow reaction to the spill. A Public Policy Polling survey taken last week showed more Louisianans approved of President George W. Bush's response to Katrina than Obama's response to the oil spill.
But the president said his administration "has worked hard to match our efforts on the spill to what you need on the ground," and he pledged to continue the follow up on spill's impact on the region.
Among those pledges was the creation of a $20 billion funds provided by BP to help those whose livelihoods were hurt by the spill. The administration is also monitoring waters and coastlines to make sure there are no long-term effects to health and the environment.
"We are going to stand with you until the oil is cleaned up, the environment is restored, polluters are held accountable, communities are made whole and this region is back on its feet," he said.
But millions of dollars have been lost as a result of a moratorium on deep water drilling imposed by the administration after the spill. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who attend the president's speech at Xavier along with other state officials, pressed the White House again on Sunday to lift the ban as soon as possible.