New Orleans, La. – The president returned to Xavier University for the anniversary. He'd been there before - as a U-S Senator - to speak to the first post-Katrina graduates in 2006. Despite being flooded, the university resumed classes four months after the storm. President Obama said the government's initial slow response has picked up. He said his administration has cut red tape and gotten funds moving, especially in housing, education and health care.
"Now, I don't have to tell you that there are still too many vacant and overgrown lots. There are still too many students attending classes in trailers. There are still too many people unable to find work. And there are still too many New Orleanians, folks who haven't been able to come home. So while an incredible amount of progress has been made, on this fifth anniversary, I wanted to come here and tell the people of this city directly: My administration is going to stand with you -- and fight alongside you -- until the job is done. (Applause.) Until New Orleans is all the way back, all the way. (Applause.) "
He noted that the entire Gulf Coast region, much of which is still struggling to rebuild, is now fighting to fix the economic and environmental damage inflicted by the BP oil spill.
"And just as we've sought to ensure that we are doing what it takes to recover from Katrina, my administration has worked hard to match our efforts on the spill to what you need on the ground. And we've been in close consultation with your governor, your mayors, your parish presidents, your local government officials. And from the start, I promised you two things. One is that we would see to it that the leak was stopped. And it has been. The second promise I made was that we would stick with our efforts, and stay on BP, until the damage to the Gulf and to the lives of the people in this region was reversed. And this, too, is a promise that we will keep. We are not going to forget. We're going to stay on it until this area is fully recovered. (Applause.) "
After the president and first lady headed back to Washington in mid-afternoon, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu hosted the city's official commemoration, moved from Jackson Square because of rain to inside the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Armstrong Park.
Gospel music began the ceremonies on a solemn note - until the first appearance of all the Mardi Grad Indian chiefs together at the same event.
They barely fit through the side doors before the crowd was dancing.
After being introduced by N-B-C Anchor Brian Williams, Mayor Landrieu delivered a 15-minute speech. He recalled the struggles and the tears that immediately followed the storm, and how the city's spirit came together to rebuild.
"Here in New Orleans on this sacred soil, we are called to do something remarkable - it is time - it is time -- to turn tragedy into triumph. We must vow to create a better New Orleans. To become the city of our dreams we must follow a righteous path guided by the lessons that we have learned from Katrina. Love thy neighbor, our diversity is our strength, and never, ever, ever give up. We cannot let these lessons fade. We are not rebuilding the city that we were. We are creating the city that we want to become. "
The evening ended with a raise-the roof combined performance of John Boutte, Terence Blanchard, Trombone Shorty and the Rebirth Brass Band.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming