KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush, ahead of next week's anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, said yesterday that the US government is making changes to improve response to national disasters and address the deep-seated poverty the flood waters exposed.
``Last year I made a simple pledge: The federal government would learn the lessons of Katrina, we would do what it takes, and we would stay as long as it takes, to help our brothers and sisters build a new Gulf Coast where every citizen feels part of the great promise of America," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Following a long weekend on the coast of Maine, Bush and Laura Bush are traveling to Mississippi and Louisiana tomorrow and Tuesday to meet with local officials and citizens to review progress made since the hurricane struck Aug. 29, 2005.
Antiwar demonstrators marched to within half a mile of the Bush compound yesterday, called Walker's Point after the family of former President Bush's mother, before being turned back at a security checkpoint. Police estimated their numbers at about 700. The protesters sang, chanted, beat drums, waved signs, and even played fiddles to call on Bush to bring troops home.
Bush noted the human toll of Katrina during his address yesterday: More than a thousand deaths. Countless families who lost their homes and livelihoods. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children forced to flee the region.
``One year after the storms, the Gulf Coast continues down the long road to recovery," Bush said. ``In Mississippi and Louisiana, we can see many encouraging signs of recovery and renewal, and many reminders that hard work still lies ahead."
The hurricane's immediate aftermath, with its scenes of chaos, desperate displaced residents, and response delays, tarnished Bush's image as a leader. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month found that 67 percent of Americans disapproved of Bush's handling of the Katrina disaster.
Responding to critics who say the Bush administration responded too slowly, Bush acknowledged in his radio message that Katrina revealed that federal, state, and local governments were unprepared. That is the message Democrats are making as the anniversary approaches.
``A year after the most powerful hurricanes in history hit America's shores, the rebuilding process is only just beginning in many communities. And as long as tens of thousands of families can't return home the work of recovery remains incomplete," Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said in the Democratic radio response.
Sensitive to the criticism, the White House says that rebuilding will take time -- that the one-year anniversary does not mark a finish line in recovery.