Page last updated at 20:45 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 21:45 UK

Obama vows to rebuild New Orleans

Obama: "We are not going to forget about New Orleans"

US President Barack Obama has promised the residents of New Orleans that his administration "will not forget" them, four years after Hurricane Katrina.

"Together we will rebuild this region and we will build it stronger than before," he promised after his first visit to the city since taking office.

Mr Obama also announced a new working group to co-ordinate restoration projects across the Gulf Coast.

The president made the rebuilding of New Orleans a campaign pledge.

'Far to go'

Speaking at a town-hall meeting at the University of New Orleans, Mr Obama accused the administration of former President George W Bush of standing by four years ago "while a major American city drowns".

Katrina and the subsequent widespread flooding it caused was "not just disaster of nature, but a breakdown of government", he said.

The people of New Orleans deserve more than a drive-through daiquiri summit
Steve Scalise, Republican Congressman

Mr Obama noted that sewers and roads damaged by the storm still needed to be repaired, while houses and hospitals remained vacant.

But since January, he said, his administration had been "working around the clock to clean up red tape and eliminate bureaucracy".

Reconstruction projects which had stalled because of disagreements over funding between the state and federal government had moved forward, and more than $1.4bn of additional federal aid which was tied up in red tape had been released, he added.

"It's clear how far we have to go before we can call this recovery a success," he said.

"I promise you this... we will not forget about New Orleans. We are going to keep on working. We will not forget about the Gulf Coast."

'Drive-through' visit

Earlier, the president briefly toured the city, seeing for himself still-boarded up and empty homes. Some of the streets, however, were full with cheering crowds.

In the Lower Ninth ward, which was particularly hard hit by flooding in the wake of the hurricane, Mr Obama visited the only school out of six there to have so far reopened.

Lower Ninth ward of New Orleans (October 2009)
The Lower Ninth ward was devastated by the storm and homes remain empty

According to some estimates, less than a quarter of the residents of the Lower Ninth ward have returned, compared to 75% for the rest of the city.

Opposition politicians criticised the brevity of the president's visit on Thursday, which lasted less than four hours before he left for San Francisco.

Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise said the president's quick visit was not enough.

Referring to New Orleans's lax liquor laws and its reputation as a popular destination for party-goers, he said the city's people deserved "more than a drive-through daiquiri summit".

The White House said Mr Obama should not be judged on the amount of time he spent in New Orleans but on the "tangible improvements in the rebuilding and in the lives of people that stayed there".

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