NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday observed the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's decimation of New Orleans, and praised the city for its dramatic recovery in the decade that followed the worst weather disaster in American history.
Obama arrived in New Orleans at around 12:30 p.m. local time. After meeting with hundreds of residents and youth in the city, the president delivered a commemorative speech at the Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center -- a new $20 million facility that replaced a community complex and fire station destroyed by Katrina.
"Hello everybody. Where ya at?" Obama said in opening his remarks to an enthusiastic crowd. "It's good to be back in the Big Easy!"
"And this is the weather in August all the time, right?" he quipped.
Obama's arrival commemorated a week of festivities celebrating the rebirth in Louisiana following the devastating Category 5 hurricane, which first hit Florida on Aug. 25, 2005. Exactly 10 years ago Thursday, Katrina became a Category 3 storm and prompted mass evacuations in Louisiana coastal areas ahead of its arrival.
Katrina arrived in New Orleans two days later.
Within hours, multiple levees had been breached by the raging storm and the city began to flood. Within days, a major American metropolitan city had become uninhabitable for the first time in history.
A U.S. senator from Illinois at the time, Obama vividly recalled the sheer shock of viewing the sight of a large American city under several feet of water.
"The notion that there would be anything left [after Katrina] seemed unimaginable, at the time," Obama said Thursday. "Today, this new community center stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city."
"You are an example of what's possible when, in the face of tragedy and hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and to build a better future," Obama continued. "That, more than any other reason, is why I have come back here today."
The federal government -- particularly the George W. Bush administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency -- was exhaustively criticized in the weeks and years following Katrina. The critiques ranged from general government apathy to elitism to allegations of authoritative racism.
"The world watched in horror and saw those rising waters around the iconic streets of New Orleans, families stranded on rooftops, bodies in the streets, children crying ... an American city dark and under water" Obama said.
Thursday, the president said modern day New Orleans stands as a monument to recovery -- and reform.
"What started out as a natural disaster became a man-made disaster." he said. "A failure of government to look out for its own citizens."
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, were among dozens who joined Obama at Thursday's event. Fugate didn't head FEMA during Katrina, but he was a leader in coordinating much of the $120 billion in post-Katrina aid.
"As president, I have been proud to be your partner," Obama said. "I made promises when I was a senator that I would help. And I have kept those promises."
Thursday was Obama's ninth visit to New Orleans since becoming president.