A decade after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, President Obama stood before survivors of the storm to praise the "extraordinary resilience" of a city whose recovery once seemed unimaginable.
"It’s been ten years since Katrina hit, devastating communities in Louisiana and Mississippi and across the Gulf Coast," Obama said in a speech Thursday in New Orleans marking the anniversary of the storm. "In the days following its landfall, more than 1,800 of our fellow citizens -- men, women and children -- lost their lives."
While acknowledging the tragedy of "families stranded on rooftops, bodies in the streets," the president emphasized the hard work of a local community whose recovery efforts had inspired him and the rest of the country.
"We acknowledge this loss and this pain, not to dwell on the loss and the pain, not to wallow in grief," Obama said. "The project of rebuilding here wasn’t just to rebuild the city as it had been, but to rebuild the city as it should be."
Earlier in the day, the president met with residents still working to rebuild their neighborhoods after the storm made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane, bringing 130-mile-per-hour winds and a nearly 30-foot storm surge that collapsed the levees surrounding New Orleans, flooding the city and destroying more than 1 million homes and businesses.
Touring the city as a candidate in 2007, two years after the storm, then-Sen. Obama described an America that "failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast long before that failure showed up on our television sets" and promised that "we cannot, we must not, fail for a third time."
Commemorating the years of recovery in his speech Thursday afternoon, Obama said he'd kept those promises, describing a city renewed by $71 billion in federal funds, infrastructure projects, and experimental new social programs to revitalize New Orleans.
"If Katrina was initially an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what happens when government works together," he said. Comparing the Gulf Coast's resurgence to the economic recovery of the nation as a whole, Obama offered up New Orleans as a reflection of the hopeful vision underlying his progressive agenda.
"The basic notion that I'm my brother's keeper ... that's the story of New Orleans but that's also the story of America," the president said.
Obama also acknowledged that while "the progress you've made is remarkable," New Orleans continues to be a city plagued by generations of poverty, violence, and racial and economic inequality that was laid bare by the storm.
"Like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there were no resources to fall back on," the president said. "As hard as rebuilding levees is, as hard as rebuilding houses is, real change, real lasting structural change, that’s even harder."