Barack Obama flew in to New Orleans yesterday to join the city in its commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
While the administration celebrated the great strides made in the rebuilding effort, the President acknowledged that much more remained to be done, adding that the city had suffered another setback with the effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf region.
Across the city — as throughout Louisiana and the neighbouring state of Mississippi, also hit by Katrina — memorials and marches were planned throughout the day. The 1,800 people who died when protective levees broke, allowing water to pour into the city, were mourned at church services, while a “healing ceremony” was planned in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, where only about a quarter of the 5,400 homes that once stood in the area have been rebuilt since the storm.
When Mr Obama took office, about 40,000 families were living in government trailers or on federal housing vouchers, but 98% were now in permanent housing, the administration said.
Some 300,000 people were displaced by the storm, whose harrowing images of suffering — from people stranded on rooftops, to others sheltering without food and water inside the New Orleans superdome — have been replayed again and again over the weekend.
But the anniversary has also been about celebrating what has been rebuilt and renewed, with a proliferation of art and music festivals highlighting a return of the vibrant cultural movement that made New Orleans unique among American cities.
Mr Obama, arriving at the end of his 10-day summer holiday, chose Xavier University for his remarks as a symbol of that renewal. The site was underwater for two weeks after the levees broke but, with the aid of $55m (£35.4m) in federal government grants, was reopened just five months later.
Around $114bn (£73.4bn) in federal funds has been committed to the region to recovery from the hurricane season of 2005, but more will be needed to fully restore New Orleans, the city's new mayor said yesterday.
“It's going to require a huge lift by the entire country,” Mitch Landrieu said on NBC's Meet The Press. “You cannot take it as a fait accompli that this city is going to come back.”
The mayor's sister, Mary Landrieu, who is the Democratic senator for Louisiana, called on the Obama administration to lift a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which she said has set back the region's economy. “A six-month moratorium has put a blanket of fear and anxiety and it must be lifted as soon as possible,” she said, in order to help small businesses affected by the ban.