Bush's Katrina Tour Focuses on Success Stories

President Bush's visit to New Orleans and Mississippi avoids areas that still show the worst of Katrina's wrath in favor of rebuilt homes. Critics say many federal funds earmarked for the rebuilding effort are not being spent.

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President Bush traveled to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and New Orleans yesterday to check in on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. He acknowledged people's frustration over the pace of rebuilding.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: The president started his day with a neighborhood tour in the coastal town of Long Beach, Mississippi, where he met satisfied families showing off brand new brick houses.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: How's everybody?

Unidentified Woman: All right.

President BUSH: Y'all come on through here, we'll get a picture.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

Unidentified Man: We're much better now that you're here.

President BUSH: I'm proud to be with you.

GONYEA: After a stop in Biloxi, it was off to New Orleans. The president did not tour that city's bleakest, most devastated areas. He did visit a charter elementary school, saying it's playing a key role in the city's comeback.

The president's focus was on progress. At lunch with the mayor and other elected officials at a small Creole diner, he drew comparisons to the city's pro football team, which had an unexpectedly strong season this past year.

President BUSH: I guess the New Orleans Saints football team represents to me what's happened in this part of the state. There's a resurgence. There's a renewal. And even though there's a lot of work to be done, the spirit of the people down here is strong.

GONYEA: Just down the block, local resident Kenny Kennan(ph) was wearing a beat-up New Orleans Saints ball cap. He still lives in a trailer parked on a vacant lot. He says he's unimpressed by the entourage eating lunch.

Mr. KENNY KENNAN: Ah. What can I say about politicians?

GONYEA: The president notes that $110 billion in federal money has been approved, but less than half of that amount has actually been distributed. Mr. Bush says he's written the check; now it's up to state and local officials to make sure people get that money.

But critics also say the president hasn't used his office to keep Katrina recovery on the front burner. Another area of tension is a requirement that the state come up with 10 percent matching funds for federal emergency dollars.

Louisiana's Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu says that's a burden.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): The waiving of the 10 percent has been done in the past. The president can do this with a single stroke with the pen. I'm calling on him to do that today.

GONYEA: The White House says only that it will weigh the merits of the proposal.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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