Obama visits New Orleans, presses for quicker recovery

A man holds a sign and disrupts the start of a Senate Homeland Security Committee meeting on Katrina and Rita recovery as Steven Preston, left, administrator of the Small Business Administration, and HUD Assistant Secretary Pamela Patenaude look on in Ne The Associated Press

AP

A man holds a sign and disrupts the start of a Senate Homeland Security Committee meeting on Katrina and Rita recovery as Steven Preston, left, administrator of the Small Business Administration, and HUD Assistant Secretary Pamela Patenaude look on in Ne The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama toured hurricane-scarred New Orleans on Monday after criticizing the White House for the slow pace of recovery from storms that hit the Gulf Coast almost a year and a half ago.

“There is not a sense of urgency out of this White House and this administration,” Obama said during a Senate committee hearing on the response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “If nothing else, I hope that this hearing helps restore that sense of urgency.”

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing was attended by Obama, D-Ill., committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

After hearing testimony from federal, state and local officials, the senators and staffers traveled from the Louisiana Supreme Court building in the French Quarter to Jackson Barracks, the badly flooded National Guard headquarters, and then to the largely uninhabited Lower 9th Ward.

“Welcome to the isle of New Orleans!! Forgotten by our own country,” read a sign carried by one of several protesters as the tour got under way.

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Obama urged federal, state and local authorities to try to speed up the process of getting aid money to storm victims.

He also said he supported proposals to waive a federal requirement that states provide matching money for federal aid and a change in funding formulas governing the allocation of aid.

Landrieu complained that Louisiana, while it received seven times more damage than Mississippi from Katrina, has had only twice as much money.

Bush’s coordinator for the Gulf Coast recovery, Donald Powell, blamed the disparity on caps Congress set limiting the percentage of money a state can get arising from a disaster.

Obama was careful not to slight Mississippi, which suffered major damage from Katrina.

“I don’t think that Mississippi is unduly benefiting, in the sense that they’ve got a lot of work to do, too,” Obama said.

The visit by Obama comes about a month after another 2008 presidential contender, John Edwards, kicked off his campaign in New Orleans.

Obama was critical of Bush for failing to mention the hurricane recovery effort in last week’s State of the Union address.

Powell sought to assure the committee that Bush is determined to rebuild the region.

“President Bush is committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast and rebuilding it stronger and better than it was before hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” Powell said, adding that it will take a “long time” to finish the job.

Earlier, a protester shouting “Stand up for Justice” interrupted Lieberman’s opening remarks.

The man yelled, “Stand up for justice! We want somebody to stand up for justice!” before a law enforcement officer led him out of the room.

“It’s hard to come back here more than a year after Katrina … without feeling that emotion,” Lieberman said after the interruption. “We’re here to say that we understand the work is not done, to put it mildly.”