US President George W. Bush on Thursday unveiled his plan to rebuild the Hurricane Katrina-devastated areas along the Gulf Coast, promising that communities there will be rebuilt "even better and stronger than before the storm."
As hundreds of thousands of people from across the region would need to find longer-term housing, the government's goal to get people out of the shelters by the middle of October, Bush said in a prime-time speech broadcast live from New Orleans, Louisiana.
He said that in order to carry out the first stages of the relief effort and begin rebuilding, he had asked for, and the Congress had provided, more than 60 billion US dollars.
"The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen," he said.
The president proposed the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.
Within the zone, immediate incentives for job-creating investment would be provided -- tax relief for small businesses, incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, he said.
He also proposed the creation of worker recovery accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work, and that Congress pass an urban homesteading act to help lower-income citizens in the hurricane region.
In his speech, Bush said he wanted to know all the facts about the government response to Hurricane Katrina.
"The storm involved a massive flood, a major supply and security operation, and an evacuation order affecting more than a million people," he said.
However, "the system at every level of government was not well coordinated and was overwhelmed in the first few days," he noted.
Bush said that when the federal government failed to respond effectively in a time of emergency, four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "I as president am responsible for the problem -- and for the solution." He said the government would learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. "We're going to review every action and makes necessary changes, so that we are better prepared for any challenge of nature, or act of evil men, that could threaten our people," he said.
Bush was in the region for the fourth time since the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 28, at a time when his job approval ratings moved downward.
A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Thursday showed only 41 percent of Americans approved of Bush's performance in office, while 53 percent disapproved, which were in line with other national polls conducted in the last week, roughly equal to the worst ratings he has ever received.