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New Orleans tires of talk

| Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — A day after an enthusiastic, almost-gushing crowd met President Obama on his first visit to New Orleans since taking office, some in this still-suffering, hurricane-struck city are wondering when platitudes and political speak will give way to greater progress.

Among them is recent law school graduate Gabe Bordenave, 29, who sees what he considers a continued nickel-and-diming by the Federal Emergency Management Agency over critical rebuilding projects, like a downtown hospital shuttered since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

"I don't want to hear how problems are being solved," Bordenave said Friday. "I want to know why the problems are not solved."

Obama vowed that Gulf Coast rebuilding would be a priority of his administration, but progress often has been overshadowed by bureaucratic holdups and hard feelings among government officials about the response to Katrina and the slow pace of the recovery.

Sandy Rosenthal, the founder and executive director of levees.org , said her disappointment with Obama's visit was intense, mostly because he referred to Katrina as a "disaster of nature."

Rosenthal said the levee failures that sent water pouring into the city prove it was a manmade disaster, too. Obama's failure to recognize that, she said, felt like a tactic to show that recovery money was coming from "the realm of generosity" rather than a government obligation to help New Orleans.

Others, like Terence Butler, are holding out hope the president will come through.

"I guess they're trying to do what they can," said the 52-year-old painter, speaking through an iron-wrought door in a section of Gentilly where he said crime is a problem and reminders of Katrina's devastation — the FEMA trailer, empty house with overgrown yard and blue tarp strips flapping on a roof — are hard to miss.

Said Butler: "He did give a good speech."

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