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Bush tries to counter Katrina dismay

The "government still knows you exist."

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published March 2, 2007


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NEW ORLEANS - President Bush acknowledged the deep frustration of Hurricane Katrina victims Thursday and said the federal government shares the blame for the slow recovery of the Gulf Coast.

He gave residents of the battered region a message: "The federal government still knows you exist."

In stops across coastal Mississippi and Louisiana, Bush defended the federal allotment of $110-billion in relief aid. Of that total, less than half has been spent.

"If it is stuck because of unnecessary bureaucracy, our responsibility at the federal, state and local level is to unstick it," Bush said at Samuel J. Green Charter School, which recovered from flooding.

In his first visit to the region in six months, Bush sought to fight the perception that those whose lives were devastated by the August 2005 storm had fallen off his agenda.

The Bush administration's initial response to the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history was widely seen as a failure, and the president is still dogged by criticism.

Democratic lawmakers are pushing for more action.

"I committed to the people of this part of the world and the Gulf Coast that the federal government would fund recovery - and stay committed to the recovery," Bush said during his 14th trip to the region. It was his first visit since the one-year anniversary of the storm.

Much of New Orleans outside the tourist areas remains in shambles. Violent crime has soared and health care is limited. Many residents are thinking of getting out for good.

Exasperated officials from the region said it was telling that Katrina did not get a mention in Bush's State of the Union speech in January.

"If you don't get New Orleans straight, the United States will never be the same," said Wayne Baquet, who owns a cafe where Bush ate. It was flooded and looted during Katrina.

[Last modified March 2, 2007, 00:58:13]


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