Obama team says it's prepared for another Katrina-like storm

The Obama administration says it is prepared to handle a major natural disaster on par with Hurricane Katrina.

President Barack Obama's White House and agencies are winning high marks from both Democrats and Republicans for efforts at both rebuilding and preparing for other storms, four years after Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast and damaged the Bush administration’s legacy.

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The Obama team went to work quickly after taking office, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issuing a department-wide directive -- including to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -- on Jan. 27 to ensure integration between state and federal agencies in planning for disasters.

On Jan. 28, Napolitano ordered a department review of plans to address Katrina's "lingering impacts," according to a White House fact sheet. And then on Jan. 29, FEMA announced an approved $23 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs "to cover the entire cost of elevating 48 residential properties in Orleans Parish to the Advisory Base Flood Elevation."

Obama focused his weekly radio address on his administration's efforts on both the rebuilding and the preparation fronts.

"From the streets of New Orleans to the Mississippi Coast, folks are beginning the next chapter in their American stories," Obama said. "And together, we can ensure that the legacy of a terrible storm is a country that is safer and more prepared for the challenges that may come."

The combined efforts of the administration have won praise from familiar allies like Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), as well as potential opponents like Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal told the Associated Press that the Obama administration has taken a "more practical and flexible approach" to dealing with disasters and rebuilding.

And in advance of Saturday's four-year anniversary, Clyburn hailed the "new partner in the White House committed to delivering results in the region," adding that Obama "took immediate steps to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that has delayed assistance for years, and so far has released over $1 billion in public assistance projects."

“It’s this common-sense focus on results in the region that will move the Gulf Coast from recovery to revitalization in the months and years ahead," Clyburn said. "Much more remains to be done to rebuild and strengthen schools, infrastructure, housing and health care systems.  And we will continue to walk with [Gulf Coast residents], step by step, sunshine or storm, on the road from recovery to revitalization."

In the seven months since Obama has taken office, more than half of his Cabinet has traveled to the coast, and White House officials say the president is determined to prevent the federal government from being caught off guard.

Clyburn and others have praised Obama for putting Greg Fugate in place as the head of FEMA.

Fugate, who led the Florida Division of Emergency Management, has been repeatedly used as a point of contrast to the FEMA of the Bush years, specifically during the Gulf Coast disaster.

The position became the symbol for bureaucratic incompetence in 2005 when Bush famously praised his FEMA director, Michael Brown, for doing "a heckuva job" at the same time television images showed bodies floating in the streets and citizens sat stranded atop their homes.

Upon nominating Fugate, Obama declared that the Floridian was "the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated."

The White House has also hailed the use of stimulus money on the gulf coast to help with rebuilding and preparation efforts.

The administration noted that more than $3.3 billion in stimulus funds were announced for Louisiana, more than $2.4 billion for Mississippi, nearly $3.3 billion for Alabama and more than $16.5 billion for Texas.

Obama aide Nick Shapiro said that efforts include "strengthening federal emergency programs, enhancing emergency communications, improving disaster housing and shelter and helping state and local governments, the private sector and individual citizens get better prepared."

"The president has visited New Orleans multiple times and has said he will visit again by the end of the year because he wants to see first-hand where progress is being made and where it isn’t," Shapiro said.