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President Obama on Thursday will hail New Orleans's "extraordinary resilience" in recovering from Hurricane Katrina, 10 years after the storm devastated the city and became a symbol of dysfunctional government.
Obama will travel to the Big Easy to meet with local residents and speak at a new recreation center in the Lower Ninth Ward, the section of the city hit hardest by Katrina.
"Not long ago, our gathering here in the Lower Ninth might have seemed unlikely," Obama will say, according to the White House. "You are an example of what’s possible when, in the face of tragedy and hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and to build a better future."
The 2005 storm was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, flooding 80 percent of the city, killing more than 1,800 people and leaving a million people displaced.
New Orleans was still reeling from Katrina’s aftermath when Obama first took office in 2009, and his trip will give him the chance to frame the city’s recovery as a success for his administration.
Obama will draw a contrast with the initial botched response to the storm under President George W. Bush, which forced storm survivors to wait days for government assistance, marring his presidency.
"What started out as a natural disaster became a manmade one — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens," Obama will say.
Bush, who will attend a 10th anniversary event on Friday, expressed regret for his decision to fly over — but not visit — New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the Category 5 hurricane, a move that became a symbol of his administration’s response.
In a 2010 interview, he admitted it was a “huge mistake” to not stop in the Crescent City and to be photographed overlooking the damage on the ground.
Obama plans to tout his administration's efforts to help the Gulf Coast recover, including $6.5 billion in federal aid since 2009 for infrastructure and public works projects to help rebuild roads, bridges, hospitals and homes, and ensure they can endure future storms.
The federal government has also chipped in $102 million to New Orleans's school system, which underwent a complete overhaul following the storm.
The Bush and Obama administrations have given almost $71 billion to help state and local recovery efforts.
But many of the city's pre-storm problems, including rampant racial and income inequality, continue to persist even as it has gotten back on its feet.
A decade letter, black and white New Orleans have widely divergent views of the recovery. Almost four in five whites believe the city has mostly recovered, while three in five blacks say it has not, according to a poll commissioned by Louisiana State University.
Obama will attempt to strike a balance between talking up the recovery and acknowledging that many problems still exist.
The president will say the storm revealed a city "plagued by structural inequality that left too many people, especially poor people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing."
"This is a city that slowly, unmistakably, together, is moving forward," Obama will say. "Because the project of rebuilding here wasn’t simply to restore the city as it had been. It was to build a city as it should be — a city where everyone, no matter who they are or what they look like or how much money they’ve got — has an opportunity to make it."
But the speech won't just be a celebration. The president will also take the opportunity to talk about climate change, a major White House agenda item, and how it exacerbates the effects of hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires.
“There is reason to be concerned about these storms getting worse and more violent,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.