US & Canada

Obama hails New Orleans spirit on Katrina anniversary

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Media captionPresident Obama: "New Orleans is blossoming again"

US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to the people of New Orleans, five years to the day after Hurricane Katrina destroyed large parts of the city.

His administration would stand by them and continue rebuilding "until the job is done", Mr Obama said.

Katrina was a natural disaster but also a man-made one, he said, which saw a "shameful breakdown" of government.

More than 1,800 people died when Katrina hit the Gulf coast in 2005.

The storm displaced hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom have still not returned.

Ceremonies in New Orleans to mark the anniversary include the tolling of the bells at St Louis Cathedral.

Mr Obama made his speech at Xavier University - which, like much of New Orleans, was flooded when the levees protecting the city were breached by flood tides.

He described the city as a symbol of resilience and community.

"It is inspiring to spend time with people who've demonstrated what it means to persevere in the face of tragedy," he said.

A fortified levee system would be finished next year, Mr Obama pledged.

"We should not be playing Russian roulette every hurricane season," he said.

But he acknowledged that much remained to be done.

"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 who have not been able to come home."

In the past few months, the same region hit by Hurricane Katrina has had to cope with the environmental damage caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Obama told his audience that the White House would "stand with you until the oil is cleaned up, the environment is restored, polluters are held accountable, communities are made whole, and this region is back on its feet."

'Survivors'

A march and "healing ceremony" have also been scheduled in a district of the city where many houses still stand vacant.

During a symbolic interment of victims of Katrina in Chalmette, Louisiana, residents were invited to write "farewell Katrina" messages and place them in a coffin, which was then buried.

"You made us stronger and made us realise what was important in life. One day we will feel better," read one note.

Gregory Aymond, Archbishop of New Orleans, led the ceremony, telling the congregation: "Where was God five years ago on this day? Here, weeping with us, and trying to console us in the midst of a natural tragedy."

Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore near New Orleans with winds of up to 125mph (201 km/h) - making it a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It had only just weakened from Category 5 and brought ashore a massive storm surge.

Entire communities on the Gulf Coast were obliterated, and than a million people were displaced and scattered around the US.

Many were housed in Federal Emergency Management Agency caravans.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled New Orleans and with much of its housing stock destroyed, the city's population a year after the storm was only half its pre-Katrina level of 1.3 million.

According to US census figures, by July 2009, its population had recovered to 90% of its pre-storm level.

Are you in New Orleans? Were you there when the disaster happened? Do you have pictures of the damage post-Katrina and the rebuilding undertaken since?

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