New Orleans Reacts to President Bush's Speech

Residents of New Orleans gave an overall poor response to President Bush's State of the Union address and his comments on efforts to rebuild the city and other Gulf Coast areas hammered by Hurricane Katrina.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Oil and gas are some of the biggest industries in Louisiana. But many Gulf Coast residents listened to the president last night not to hear about his energy policy but to hear what he had to say about the hurricanes that devastated their region last year. NPR's Audie Cornish watched the address with a houseful of New Orleans residents, and she prepared this report.

AUDIE CORNISH, reporting:

Wine, beer, and Middle Eastern takeout are the recipe for a good gathering around the president's State of the Union address on Laurel Street. Gavin MacArthur(ph) and his wife, Allison Alsop(ph), invited friends to watch. Like the city, they're mostly democrats. And they're expecting to pick over whatever plans the president might have for the hurricane-affected region.

Unidentified Female #1: Just curious, is anyone following a time here because we have yet to actually get to the union.

Unidentified Female #2: Sixty-one minutes and he hasn't even mentioned the fact that close to 2,000 people have died in Louisiana in the past year (unintelligible).

CORNISH: President Bush combed through an extensive agenda defending the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and domestic wire tapping practices. Half way through, an impatient Gavin Macarthur changes into a T-Shirt that reads:

Mr. GAVIN MACARTHUR (New Orleans resident): Screw Fallujah Save New Orleans.

CORNISH: It's nearly the end of the hour by the time the President gets to the section on the gulf region and hurricane recovery.

(Soundbite of President George Bush's State of the Union)

(Soundbite of Cheering).

CORNISH: But at the end of the speech, Lucia Blackshore can only express disappointment. She's a civil rights attorney in the city and lost her home and everything in it due to the storm. She says Mr. Bush's comments were too little and too vague.

Ms. LUCIA BLACKSHORE (Civil rights attorney, New Orleans): I just think that it's amazing that the images that people watched that week after the storm, those horrible, horrible images of people suffering and the way that they did in the city, that they can be just completely unacknowledged in this speech.

CORNISH: Another who lost his apartment in the city was Dale Hrebik. He works at Loyola University. Though he's not sure how long the job will last if the school tries to recover from the storm with staffing cuts. Hrebik says the speech proves the city is no longer on the radar of the Bush administration or the country.

MR. DALE HREBIK (New Orleans resident): We felt forgotten for a while now and this just sort of underlined it.

CORNISH: Around this coffee table, the President's speech was remarkable for what it did not include. No details on levy systems, no further plans on how to help the area rebuild. The evenings host and University of New Orleans teacher, Allison Alsop.

Ms. ALSOP (New Orleans Resident): You hear the phrase over and over again. It is up to us and if New Orleans survives it will be because of what we do. And I think that's a very sad position because we have paid our taxes, we have sent sons and daughters of Louisiana to Iraq, and we have paid our dues to the government and it is up to them really I think to make good on their side of the deal.

CORNISH: And with that portion lacking, the rest of the speech was practically white noise to these residents of New Orleans. Hrebik says the hurricane has made him a one issue voter.

Mr. HREBIK: Iraq, education, alternative fuels, you know, name everything else that he mentioned, cloning, um, all of it just pales in comparison to the fact that my city has been practically wiped off the map.

CORNISH: The last time the President discussed the gulf region in a national address was last September in New Orleans, Jackson Square. At that time he promised to quote "do what ever it takes to help the region". But at the Macarthur's house President Bush only seemed to have moved further from that goal.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, New Orleans.

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