President Bush greets New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Monday night.
(CNN) – President Bush arrived in New Orleans Tuesday night to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, his 15th visit to the Gulf Coast since the deadly storm.
Air Force One touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner, which served as a staging area for medical teams in the days following the storm. First Lady Laura Bush arrived on a smaller Air Force jet a few minutes before the President.
The President warmly greeted Governor Kathleen Blanco, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin at the foot of the plane. The smiles and pats on the back were in contrast to often bitter political disagreements between their administrations in the wake of the storm.
Mr. Bush then greeted Lt. General Russell Honore, who won praise for his role commanding military relief efforts after several days of complaints over government inaction. The President saluted Honore and then shook his hand.
Blanco and Nagin joined the President on Marine One for a trip to downtown New Orleans, where they were expected to dine at a newly reopened restaurant, Dooky Chase. Local reporters noted it’s in an area with a housing complex that is still shut down. The White House said community and cultural leaders were to join them.
Mr. Bush has several stops in New Orleans tomorrow, including a moment of silence for the victims, before traveling to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
The White House continues to face criticism over the response to the storm, and recovery efforts two years later. Aboard Air Force One, en route to the Gulf, White House officials briefed reporters on federal efforts. Spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters, “The President continues to follow through on his commitment to help local citizens rebuild their lives and communities on the Gulf Coast. The federal government has provided more than $114 billion for relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts, and over $96 billion of which has been disbursed or is available for the states to draw from.”
Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Recovery Don Powell said levee rebuilding was a success, saying, “The levee systems are better and stronger than they've ever been in the history of New Orleans. In order for New Orleans to be a viable city going forward, the most important thing in the long-term rebuilding is the levee system. People want to feel that they're safe.”
–CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk