Obama Attempts to Strike Balance Between Hope and Realism Five Years Out from Katrina

When President and Mrs. Obama touch down in New Orleans Sunday, they will be revisiting a region still struggling to regain its footing from the effects of both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

On the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Obama will tell state and local leaders, students and faculty of Xavier University that he understands their struggle with both crises.

"[W]e've obviously done a lot to get help down to the Gulf even before this oil spill had had such a terrible impact on the region," Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters traveling with the president in Martha's Vineyard this week.

"So he'll talk a little bit about our efforts, what we've done on Katrina...and what we can do to help the Gulf region recover," Burton said, adding the president knows the region had not even fully rebounded from Katrina before the oil spill happened.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who battled with the administration over efforts to protect his state from the oil spill's effects, recognized the ill-timed arrival of the BP disaster.

"Today we're facing a different type of crisis as we work to revitalize our state following the BP oil spill," Jindal said this week.

Echoing a popular refrain among officials, Jindal added, "Every time we have been hit, we get back up and we're stronger than before."

Administration and state officials Friday touted their latest rebuilding effort by announcing an infusion of $1.8 billion in federal funding to the state of Louisiana's Recovery School District (RSD) and Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) for the repair and replacement of public schools in Orleans Parish, which includes the city of New Orleans.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters that buildings will be designed to withstand 130 mile per hour winds, and will be elevated to protect from floods. Buildings that cannot be elevated because they are historic will be protected in other ways from flooding. He said simply that they will be "safer."

Obama officials have blanketed the region this week to engage with locals on progress in their hometowns. Cabinet members and other officials have visited not only Louisiana, but the state of Mississippi, which is also on the mend after Katrina devastated parts of its infrastructure.

To date, FEMA has pledged more than $8.9 billion for public assistance projects in Louisiana related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Meanwhile, Xavier University, which has received more than $55 million in federal grants from FEMA, provides the backdrop before which Mr. Obama will praise the region's resolve. The school was completely under water for two weeks after Katrina hit, yet it reopened a mere five months later and was back up to nearly 80% of its original attendance by January of 2006.

Perhaps one of the clearest indicators that the Gulf has not returned to its former self is the fact that not everyone is back in a permanent home, five years out. FEMA conducted the largest temporary housing operation in the nation's history when it provided over 143,000 temporary housing units to families displaced around the Gulf region. Today, around 740 Louisiana families remain in that housing.

In his remarks Sunday, the President will attempt to strike a balance between realism and hope. Aides say he will commemorate lives lost and sacrifices made, but he will also celebrate the "resilience" of the people of the Gulf region and the progress they've made in rebuilding it.