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President Advises 'Optimism' in Katrina Recovery


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

President Bush is in New Orleans this morning. He's marking the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, the president surveyed hurricane damage and recovery efforts in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi. The president's tour continues today as he continues to face criticism of his handling of the disaster.

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. He's joins us from New Orleans. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the president been saying?

GONYEA: Well, this seems to be part pep talk for local residents. At one point in Biloxi yesterday, the president said - this is a quote - optimism is the only option. So that's really been the tone.

Part of his mission here is to restate his pledge of continued federal support, and certainly part of it is an effort to rehabilitate the president's own damaged image and damaged reputation in the wake of the storm. There has been no talk from the president, though, of the failures of a year ago, when the White house response to the storm was seen as being far too slow. There's only been from the president general reference to a study that took place where they've looked back at ways to do things better for the next storm.

INSKEEP: The president did have to acknowledge people's frustration now.

GONYEA: He did. And what he said to people in Mississippi, and we'll hear it again today in New Orleans, is that this is going to take time, that it won't be fixed soon, that 365 days that have now passed, that certainly hasn't been enough. Though the president did say it has been enough to start seeing some progress.

But one other thing he was saying is that even though the federal government will be there, people shouldn't expect money to just come pouring into the effected areas without limits. Mr. Bush said he's satisfied with $110 billion in federal dollars that has been committed, but he also implied that that could be all that is coming, that there won't be this endless flow of cash. Here he is speaking to reporters in Gulfport yesterday.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, 110 billion - the - you know, hopefully that'll work. Hopefully that's enough. It's certainly enough to get us through the next you know, next period of time. And the hardest part has been to get the state reconstruction efforts up and running.

INSKEEP: So, Don Gonyea, is the president saying the federal government has done its part and now it's all up to, and perhaps the fault of, state and local officials?

GONYEA: As far as the funding. I mean the federal government will be there to provide support, to cut through red tape, all of that sort of thing. But, again, don't look for unlimited supplies of cash.

Yesterday, too, Steve, he also drew a distinction between the two states effected here - Mississippi and Louisiana. Federal officials have made it clear that Mississippi has made greater progress in the cleanup and getting money to individuals. The president had this praise for Mississippi's efforts so far when he spoke yesterday in Biloxi.

President BUSH: You can't drive through this state without seeing signs of recovery and renewal. It's just impossible to miss the signs of hope. And you've done it the old fashioned way - with vision and hard work and resolve. Some of the hardest work is still ahead.

INSKEEP: Might not see quite as many signs of recovery in New Orleans today.

GONYEA: And the message seems to be clear and not too subtle from the president. Louisiana needs to catch up, it needs to get a plan for New Orleans together. It really does need to figure out how to get money to people who need it.

INSKEEP: Don, what are you going to see in New Orleans today?

GONYEA: Well, it's clearly a place where there is a great deal more devastation than what the president saw in Mississippi yesterday. The flooding here put 80 percent of the city under water. It was unlike, really, what other parts of the Gulf Coast experienced after Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin says that makes for a unique situation, and that it just that it will take longer because it's a more complicated job.

The president yesterday again made that pledge that New Orleans will rise again. But he offered no timeline for that to happen, except to say that when we all come back in ten years, he predicted that at that point it will be hard to imagine that the city once looked like it actually still looks today.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Don, thanks.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: He's with President Bush in New Orleans one year after Hurricane Katrina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.