Former U.S. President George W. Bush returned to New Orleans on Friday for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the disaster that killed more than 1,200 people with subsequent flooding and marked one of the lowest points of his presidency, at least domestically. He was slated to give remarks at Warren Easton Charter High School, the same place where he spoke on the first anniversary of the storm, when he promised, "We will do what it takes to help you recover."
Yet his disaster management approach was largely hands off, even though his administration poured tens of billions of dollars into it. He came under intense criticism for a federal response broadly characterized as delayed, politicized and ultimately negligent, riddled with mistakes and personal blunders. Bush famously told Michael Brown, then the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that he was doing "a heck of a job," a few days after the disaster when $100 million in ice ordered by FEMA to preserve food and medicine for victims was not delivered.
Bush has visited New Orleans frequently since Katrina, according to his office, the Associated Press reported. On the first anniversary of the disaster, one of the reasons he chose Warren Easton Charter was because it was one of the few success stories in the storm's aftermath. One of the oldest public schools in the city, it reopened as a charter school in 2006, even as many of its students were classified as homeless.
"I take full responsibility for the federal government's response, and a year ago I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and that we will do what it takes to help you recover," he said during that visit. Congress had committed more than $110 billion to disaster recovery, he added. "I felt it was important that our government be generous to the people who suffered. I felt that step one of a process of recovery and renewal is money."
Yet Bush also emphasized the role of the private sector in rebuilding the parts of Louisiana and Mississippi ravaged by the hurricane. "I see an incredibly bright future for the entrepreneur. A lot of the revitalization of New Orleans and the area -- surrounding area -- is going to come because there's more businesses opening and more shops reopening," he said. "The private sector has a responsibility to help down here."
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He promised: "New Orleans is going to rise again, and by planting your corporate flag here now and contributing to this city's rebirth, you'll gain some loyal customers when times get better."
In June, New Orleans' 6.7 percent unemployment rate was notably higher than overall unemployment in the U.S. of 5.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many have labeled the area's recovery as uneven, favoring low-wage jobs and widening the economic disparities between races. Unemployment for blacks in New Orleans, who make up more than 60 percent of the city's population, was 13 percent in 2013, while it was 6 percent for whites, a report newly released by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans showed.