GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - On his first visit to South Mississippi since leaving the White House, President George W. Bush noted Gulfport's harbor looks a lot better than it did the last time he toured the area. That last time was in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, when the harbor, the city and the region were still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
"Last time it didn't look quite this pretty," said Bush. "The place was just totally devastated. To see all the boats and cranes is a testimony to the recovery of the Gulf Coast."
President Bush and his wife, Laura, were part of a Friday celebration at Gulfport's Barksdale Pavilion. They joined Governors Phil Bryant and Haley Barbour, Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker along with current and former mayors at an event focused on first responders. Each speaker thanked the men and women who rushed to Mississippi and helped save lives.
"I really want to praise the first responders here, and i want to praise our military. The devastation of that storm was just unbelievable. Most Americans have no clue what it was like. They could see it on TV, but you couldn't really get a feel for it unless you were here," said Bush.
The president's remarks concentrated on memories he had of his early visits to South Mississippi after Katrina. He talked about the devastation in Biloxi, and the mess in Waveland. And he noted just how remarkable the region looks 10 years later.
The president also reminded first responders that they played a pivotal role in Mississippi's initial recovery and its eventual rebirth.
"Most Americans can't really get a feel of the courage, perseverance and dedication of the thousands who rushed into harms way, many of whom are in this audience," said Bush. "America and the people of Mississippi owe you a huge debt of gratitude."
The president even showed his comical side, sharing memories he had of South Mississippi's leaders. When he talked about former Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo, Bush said the last time he saw the mayor, Longo had a seat at the front of the table. At this reception, the former mayor was in the back of the pavilion.
He also talked about former Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre and the shorts the mayor always wore. President Bush joked Favre looked like his new shorts were a size or two larger. The humorous comments were made to illustrate a point. This is a time for Mississippi to sit back and enjoy just how far this community has come in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina.