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Katrina a recurring theme at Democratic convention

By SHELIA BYRD

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Hurricane Katrina survivor and an event

honoring heroes of the storm are among ways Democrats will use

their national convention to remind voters of the nation's worst

natural disaster and the federal government's fumbled response.

Katrina will be bookmarked as a low point in Republican

President George W. Bush's administration. Democrats want to

capitalize on that when theyl officially choose Barack Obama as

their presidential nominee at the convention in Denver.

Mississippi Democratic Party spokesman Terry Cassreino said a

changing of the guard in the White House could expedite storm

recovery.

"It's incredibly important," Cassreino said. "We've got a

three-year anniversary coming up next week. If you take a look at

the Mississippi Gulf Coast today, there's still an awful lot to be

done. There are people who cannot return home or rebuild their

houses. Businesses are shuttered."

Margie Perez, a 43-year-old New Orleans funk and blues singer,

will deliver a speech Monday night at the convention, recounting

her struggles after Katrina decimated the Louisiana city. She'll

also talk about meeting Obama a few years ago at the Musician's

Village in New Orleans, where she moved after storm.

Perez said she left New Orleans before Katrina struck in August

2005, escaping the storm but losing her home. She had been renting

the first floor of a house that was inundated by 7 feet of water.

She said the storm and its aftermath "can't be ignored and it

won't be ignored, which is a great thing. The focus of my speech is

on New Orleans, but the whole Gulf Coast needs the attention."

More than 1 million people were displaced by Katrina in

Louisiana and Mississippi. A series of missteps by the Federal

Emergency Management Agency followed. It was several days before

aid reached evacuees stranded in the New Orleans Superdome and

thousands of people were housed in travel trailers with high levels

of formaldehyde.

And protests continue over the U.S. Housing and Urban

Development approving Mississippi's plan to divert $600 million

from a housing fund to a port project, even though some 7,100

people are still in temporary quarters.

Katrina is part of the proposed Democratic Party platform that

will be adopted during the convention.

"When the winds blew and the floodwaters came, we learned that

for all of wealth and power, something wasn't right with

Washington. Our government's response during Hurricane Katrina is a

national shame - and yet three years later, the government has

still failed to keep its promise to rebuild," that party said in

its platform proposal.

On Sunday, the convention will hold a reception to honor

organizations assisting to in the coastal recovery, including Oxfam

America and Friends of New Orleans.

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, sees the

convention as an opportunity to restart discussions about Katrina

recovery and the poverty the storm exposed.

"I don't think it's been talked about enough," Johnson said.

Johnson said he assumed the Katrina-related events at the

convention is the Democratic Party's way of "sending a message it

would be for citizens first in their decision and policy

priorities, which is a step in the right direction."

Cory Adair, the political director of the Mississippi Republican

Party, said there won't be many Katrina-themed events at the GOP's

national convention next month in St. Paul, Minn., where John

McCain will become the official presidential nominee.

Adair said Katrina will be a topic of discussion, but on a more

positive note.

"The message that we're taking regarding Katrina is, 'Sure, it

was the greatest national disaster in history, but we handled it

with a sense of teamwork and are optimistic about how we'll

continue to rebuild the coast,"' Adair said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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