NEW ORLEANS – Prince Charles (search) and his wife, Camilla, flew into New Orleans (search) on Friday for a brief glimpse of the ravaged city and a chance to meet a few of the hundreds of thousands of residents whose lives were turned upside-down by Hurricane Katrina (search).
After an airport ceremony to greet their flight from Washington, the couple were traveling to the impoverished lower Ninth Ward (search), which was all but obliterated when water breached one of the levees that protected the city. They were due to meet rescue workers and one of the many families in the district who lost their homes.
Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall (search), also were to meet children and parents at the Cathedral Academy in the city's French Quarter — the first school in the area to reopen after the storm — before flying on to San Francisco later Friday.
The tightly choreographed visit was scheduled to last barely two hours. But vice principal Peggy LeBlanc, whose flood-destroyed school was merged with Cathedral after the storm, said it was still significant.
"For people who have lost everything, something like this means a lot," she said.
"My impression is it's very important for the prince that this be centered on the children, and that this is a humanitarian act," she added.
More than 1,300 people died across five Gulf states when Katrina hit in late August, the vast majority of them in Louisiana. Eighty percent of New Orleans was inundated by floodwaters.
Engineering experts say that despite extensive repairs, dozens of breaches remain in the city's levee system more than two months later. Sen. Susan Collins (search), chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, warned this week that the repairs might be insufficient to protect residents if another storm should strike this season.
On Thursday, Charles said he and Camilla were "utterly horrified to see the terrible scenes of destruction wrought by the hurricane across New Orleans and the surrounding area."
Charles, whose Foundation for the Built Environment charity is helping fund reconstruction projects, said he planned "to meet some of the brave and resilient people trying to rebuild their lives and to pay tribute to the astounding efforts of emergency workers."
Earlier Friday, the prince and duchess wrapped up a 2 1/2-day trip to Washington with a solemn tribute to American war dead and a meeting with young students of Shakespeare.
A military guard of honor greeted the couple as they laid a wreath of red and white flowers at the National World War II Memorial (search).
Charles wore a dark suit and Camilla a black wool crepe suit and matching hat. They walked slowly around the inside of the vast monument — a circle of 50 granite pillars flanked by arches around a pool and fountains — before chatting with veterans.
Later, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Charles and Camilla watched fifth- to eighth-grade students perform scenes from "Much Ado About Nothing" and were then led on stage to meet the cast.
The royal tour has met a muted response in a Washington preoccupied with scandals involving top White House and congressional figures, battles over a Supreme Court vacancy and the rising death toll in Iraq.
The weeklong visit, designed to bolster trans-Atlantic ties and promote Charles' environmentalist causes, also represents a coming-out for Camilla, 58, who married the prince in April after a relationship that stretched back three decades and was interrupted by their marriages to others.
For many fans of the late Princess Diana (search), Camilla remains the woman who broke up the fairy-tale royal romance, although both Charles and Diana acknowledged having affairs before divorcing in 1996. Diana died in a car crash in Paris the following year.