US President Barack Obama held out the people of New Orleans as an extraordinary example of renewal and resilience 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, while visiting residents on tidy porch stoops and sampling the fried chicken at a corner restaurant.
Obama on Thursday spoke to hundreds of residents assembled at a bustling new community center in an area of the Lower 9th Ward that was once under 5.2m of water.
“There’s something in you guys that is just irrepressible,” the president told the crowd. “The people of New Orleans didn’t just inspire me, you inspired all of America.”
Obama held out the city’s comeback as a metaphor for what is happening all across a nation that has moved from economic crisis to higher ground.
“Look at what’s happened here,” he said, speaking of a transformed US city that was once “dark and under water.”
Still, Obama acknowledged that much remains to be done.
After walking door to door in the historic Treme section of a city reborn from tragedy, he said that “just because the housing is nice doesn’t mean our job is done.”
Areas of the city still suffer from high poverty, he said, and young people still take the wrong path.
There is more to be done to confront “structural inequities that existed long before the storm happened,” he added.
In his remarks at the community center, Obama blended the same themes of resilience and renewal that he drew from encounters with the sturdy residents he met along Magic Street and at other locations.
Nearly 2,000 people died, most in New Orleans. Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops, inside the Superdome and at the convention center dominated news coverage as Katrina came to symbolize government failure at every level.
In his speech, Obama said Katrina helped expose inequalities that long plagued New Orleans and left too many people, especially minorities, without good jobs, affordable healthcare or decent housing and too many kids growing up in the midst of violent crime and attending inefficient schools.
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