President Obama called New Orleans a beacon of resilience and strength, a city swiftly moving forward in the wake of an epic tragedy just days before the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the Gulf regions’ most devastating storms.
“You are an example of what is possible when in the face of tragedy, in the face of hardship good people come together and lend a hand,” Obama said on Thursday during a speech at the Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center in the Lower Ninth Ward; an area that was hard hit during Katrina and is still struggling to recover.
At the beginning of his speech, Obama took a moment to call on Congress to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown.
It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina’s wrath ravaged the Gulf Coast, breaking the levees designed to hold back the rising tide and leaving parts of the Crescent City and its surrounding areas underwater. About 80% of New Orleans flooded. Over 1,000 people died. President Obama noted that the structural inequities that plagued the city before the Hurricane only compounded the destruction and displacement the city faced after the storm.
“Like a body weakened, already, undernourished already, when the storm hit there were no resources to fall back on,” Obama said.
Now, the city, as a whole, is well on the path to recovery. According to the city, about 94% of metropolitan New Orleans’ 2000 population has returned and 14 of its 73 neighborhoods have surpassed their pre-Katrina populations. Some 14,000 new jobs have been added from major companies, according to the Katrina 10 website. And many local leaders uphold the city’s charter-school-centric education system as a potential model for the rest of the country. Obama praised New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who was the Lieutenant Governor when the storm hit, for his work to restore New Orleans to a point better than it was when the storm hit and the progress they’ve made thus far. And yet, there’s much work to be done.
“The progress you’ve made is remarkable,” Obama said. “That’s not to say things are perfect.”
Earlier on Thursday, President Obama toured the historically black neighborhood of Tremé , where jazz music’s roots run deep and residents and tourists flock to the famous restaurant Dooky Chase. About 21% fewer residents live in Tremé post-Katrina, according to the White House. The area was home to the Lafitte public housing projects, a 900-unit complex that was demolished after sustaining damage in the storm. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided some grant funding for an 812-mixed income unit that’s being constructed in its place. Obama walked down Magic Street in the neighborhood, which housed “two neat rows of sizable and spanking clean single family and duplex homes” donning brightly colored paint and wooden shutters, according to the pool report.
But the image of the new homes wasn’t an indication that the work in New Orleans is done.
“This is a community, obviously, that still has a lot of poverty. This is an area where young people still, too often, are taking the wrong path before they graduate from high school. This is a community that still needs resources and still needs help,” Obama told reporters after the tour in Tremé.
During his speech, Obama noted the disparities in employment between blacks and whites in the city, the lack of public and affordable housing, and the high levels of crime that plague pockets of the city—particularly among African American males.
“You’ve made a lot of progress. That gives us hope. But that doesn’t allow for complacency. It doesn’t mean we can rest,” Obama said. “But there’s something in you guys that’s irrepressible. You know the sun comes out after every storm. You’ve got hope.”