By ERICA WERNER
Associated Press Writer
VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. (AP) - President Barack Obama is aiming to underscore his commitment to a region weary of calamity as he travels to New Orleans on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Obama ends his Martha's Vineyard vacation Sunday and heads to the Gulf, five years to the day from when Katrina roared ashore in Louisiana. Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded when the storm tore through protective levees.
More than 1,800 people along the Gulf coast died in the storm, mostly in Louisiana.
After years where halting progress mixed often with setbacks and despair, the city was getting back on its feet when the BP oil spill dealt another blow. The exploded well spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf before it was capped in mid-July.
Obama is to speak Sunday afternoon at Xavier University, a historically black, Catholic university that was badly flooded by the storm. The White House says he will discuss what's been done and remains to be done in rebuilding from Katrina, and also talk about an oil spill cleanup that's been complicated by conflicting assessments of how much oil remains and its long-term effects.
For Obama, one challenge is to reassure residents who remain skeptical of government promises after witnessing former President George W. Bush's response to Katrina, which was criticized as out-of-touch and ham handed. Although criticism of Obama's response to the Gulf oil spill rarely reached the level of anger directed at Bush, some still saw it as lacking in speed and coordination. Obama has work to do to change that perception.
Moreover, Obama arrives as many residents of the Louisiana coast chafe under the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling he ordered in the wake of the spill, which is costing New Orleans' oil-industry-dependant economy. And many residents would like to see a greater federal commitment to restoring the coast's rapidly eroding wetlands which provide the first line of defense again hurricanes.
The one-day visit to New Orleans is the start of a grueling period for Obama, who must set a fall agenda amid punishing economic news. Crucial midterm elections loom in November.
Tuesday marks the formal end to combat missions in Iraq, and Obama is to address troops in Ft. Bliss, Texas, and deliver an Oval Office speech. The next day he plunges into Middle East diplomacy, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for individual talks and a joint dinner ahead of direct negotiations Thursday between the leaders.
And once Congress returns after Labor Day, more battles await as Obama tries to push his legislative agenda.