ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Along the Gulf Coast today, residents mark the anniversary of a tragedy. On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina pounded ashore, killing more than sixteen hundred people, ravaging the landscape and flooding the city of New Orleans.

President Bush has faced intense criticism of his administration's response. To mark the anniversary, he returned to the region, stopping today in Louisiana and Mississippi. He began in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, where Mr. Bush defended his commitment to help the city rebuild.

NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE: The president arrived in New Orleans last night and sat down at a Creole restaurant with officials, including Mayor Ray Nagin. But when it was time to mark the anniversary of Katrina this morning, the mayor and president went their separate ways. Nagin went to a cemetery to break ground for a memorial marking the final resting place for unidentified Katrina victims. The crowd with Nagin brought little handheld bells to mark the occasion.

RAY NAGIN: Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a bell, we want you to ring it along with us. Here we go.

GREENE: At the same time, President Bush was across town, holding a moment of silence inside the library of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School. The school had been under many feet of water after Katrina hit. And today, Mr. Bush noted it was the first public school to reopen its doors in the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward.

GEORGE W: It is a tribute to volunteers, concerned parents and citizens who care about education.

GREENE: Mr. Bush said he and the first lady are seeing progress in New Orleans.

BUSH: Laura and I get to come - we don't live here. We come on occasion. And it's easy to think about what it was like when we first came here after the Hurricane and what it's like today. And this town is coming back. This town is better today than it was yesterday, and it's going to be better tomorrow than it was today.

GREENE: New Orleans residents have not forgotten that Mr. Bush never mentioned Katrina in his last State of the Union Address, and there's a perception the president made promises in his speech in Jackson Square after the storm then let his attention wane. He insisted today that's not the case.

BUSH: One thing to come and give a speech in Jackson Square, it's another thing to keep paying attention to whether or not progress has been made. And I hope people understand we do. We're still paying attention. We understand.

GREENE: For his backdrop, Mr. Bush gathered a few dozen students behind him, young men and women still struggling to deal with the aftermath of Katrina.

Art teacher Amelie Prescott said in advance of Mr. Bush's visit, she asked her students in grades three through seven to confront their memories.

AMELIE PRESCOTT: We'd sit in circle - that's how we start our class - and then I say, so I want you to remember back to the storm and how that was for you, and what was going on and, you know, you go there.

GREENE: To take them there, she asked students to do drawings and artwork of what they remember from that day.

PRESCOTT: The people on the top of houses - and one little boy. He was rescued in a boat. He wanted to put himself and his brother in the boat. Now, the little boy said, I was in the Superdome. I'll make the Superdome. And he had the roof flying away.

GREENE: Those pictures were on display a few feet from the podium as the president spoke in New Orleans today.

David Greene, NPR News, New Orleans.

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