Aug. 27, 2007 — -- It's been two years since Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans region, but despite $6 billion spent on cleanup and rebuilding and 256 miles of floodwall system repaired, only 7 percent of the city's Lower 9th Ward's residents have returned.
Statistics like these are what make the New Orleans region a prime stop for presidential candidates from both parties. No less than five candidates, including front-runners Sen. Hillary Clinton, N.Y., former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will arrive this week in an attempt to connect with voters, point out the Bush administration's failures and outline their plans for rebuilding the area.
Obama said repairing the levies is not enough.
"We've got to get the levies and pumping stations working, but we also have to rebuild wetlands and marshes around the coast," Obama said. "We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. And so I want the federal government to focus on building police forces here."
Obama said his plan to rebuild New Orleans also includes making sure the area receives additional money to attract doctors, nurses and teachers to the region and "finally just fixing the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] bureaucracy, making sure applications take no more than two months to actually be processed and to get an answer back to homeowners."
Delayed response and a crippling lack of organization made FEMA the target of harsh criticism in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina. But there was time when the agency was efficient, Obama said.
"We know FEMA has worked in the past because it was independent, run by someone who understands emergency management," he said. "We propose the FEMA director should be independent, should have a six-year term like the FBI director not subject to politics, reporting directly to the president on reconstruction process," he added.