Former President George W. Bush returned to the scene of one of the greatest domestic failures of his presidency, delivering a speech at a New Orleans high school Friday to mark the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
At the Warren Easton Charter School, Bush celebrated the city’s resurgence since the 2005 storm, steering clear of his administration’s flawed response. “The darkness from a decade ago has lifted,” he declared. “The Crescent City has risen again, and its best days lie ahead.”
Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and displaced around 1 million, after waters from the Gulf Of Mexico overcame the city’s levees, flooding much of the city. The stormed caused more than $100 billion in damage. With help from the federal and state government agonizingly slow to arrive, tens of thousands of New Orleanians, overwhelmingly African-Americans, were trapped in the city for days, often in squalid conditions.
Amid widespread criticism of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bush tried to offer words of encouragement for the agency’s director, Mike Brown, saying he was doing a “heckuva job.” With the disaster still unfolding, the comments made the president seem out of touch and complacent to many. In the wake of the disaster, the rapper Kanye West said Bush “doesn’t care about black people”—a charge the president has vociferously denied. Bush’s approval ratings never recovered from Katrina.
“Hurricane Katrina is a story of loss beyond measure. It’s also a story of commitment and compassion,” Bush said Friday. “I hope you remember what I remember, which is that 30,000 were saved in the immediate aftermath of the storm by U.S. military personnel, by Louisiana law enforcement and by citizens who volunteered.”
Since Katrina destroyed many New Orleans public schools, the city has become a testing ground for increased reliance on charter schools, which Bush said are now attended by nine out of 10 New Orleans public school students. Bush held up Easton and New Orleans as examples of the movement for greater school accountability that he championed as president.
“Isn’t it amazing ?” Bush said. “The storm nearly destroys New Orleans, and yet New Orleans is now the beacon for school reform.”
“It’s important for our country to look at New Orleans and realize this is an exercise of implementing a plan that works,” Bush added, calling the performance of New Orleans schools since then “extraordinary.”
Bush also visited Warren Easton High School, which was badly damaged by Katrina, on the one-year anniversary of the storm in 2006. The school has been a beneficiary of a foundation set up by former first lady Laura Bush, a one-time teacher and librarian, to provide resources for school libraries.