Obama to visit New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina anniversary

WASHINGTON, Aug 13, 2010 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama will visit New Orleans in late August, the White House said Friday, to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city and much of the US Gulf Coast.

Obama will travel on August 29 to Louisiana's largest city, and "members of the president's cabinet who've worked to speed recovery and restoration efforts in the region also will be in New Orleans to mark the anniversary," spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

In 2005, Katrina unleashed torrential rains, leading to disastrous flooding that left about 1,600 people dead, destroyed thousands of homes and marred the presidency of Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, whose administration was severely criticized for its handling of the crisis.

Obama's visit will include remarks at Xavier University of Louisiana, Gibbs said.

The trip will be the latest in a series of Obama visits to the Gulf Coast since a BP-leased oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, triggering the largest accidental oil spill in history.

This weekend he travels to Florida's Gulf Coast for a family trip intended to show solidarity with a region struggling in the wake of the massive spill, which devastated the area economy that had barely recovered from the Katrina disaster five years earlier.

The 2005 hurricane overwhelmed New Orleans's series of protective levees and flood walls along the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, leading to the inundation of entire neighborhoods and the high death toll in the city founded by the French three centuries ago.

Bush came under withering criticism for appearing detached from the disaster and not touching down in the affected area when he first visited, instead conducting a flyover on Air Force One.

The debacle was deepened by a clear lack of communication between Washington and the then political chiefs in Louisiana.

While the White House dismisses analogies between the 2005 storm and the huge oil spill, it has nevertheless spent effort countering accusations that the spill is "Obama's Katrina."

During his own first visit to the oil spill disaster zone on May 2, nearly two weeks after oil began gushing from the ruptured well, Obama made a point of visiting the fishing village of Venice, Louisiana and rolling up his sleeves to get involved in the response effort.

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