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Senators visit Gulf Coast, report little progress on rebuilding in some areas

NEW ORLEANS -- Progress rebuilding the Gulf Coast remains overshadowed by the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina, senators said yesterday, promising more federal help as they viewed broken levees and the shattered homes of victims trying to restart their lives.

Four months after the Aug. 29 storm, lawmakers said they were surprised to see how little progress has been made in places like Gulfport, Miss., where churches were gutted and trees uprooted, and in New Orleans, where piles of boards and rubble sit where homes used to stand.

Senators touring the destruction were decidedly less upbeat than President Bush was five days earlier, when he visited New Orleans for the first time in three months.

During that trip, Bush called progress since August ''pretty dramatic," but he was later criticized for visiting the city's wealthier neighborhoods, which escaped the brunt of the damage.

''It's good to say that we've made progress, but also important to say we've got a long way to go," said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, on a daylong trip to some of Katrina's hardest-hit areas by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

''I'm disappointed, coming back four months later, that you don't see more visible progress along the coast," Lieberman said after an aerial tour of Gulfport. ''We can't kid ourselves, nor can we look the other way. This is a long-term commitment."

Congress has approved $67 billion for the Gulf Coast, and Bush has called for an additional $1.5 billion to strengthen New Orleans's levees.

Yesterday, none of the lawmakers said how much more federal aid will be needed, or for how much longer the government will have to help rebuilding the area.

Frustrations continue to rise for Gulfport residents who are waiting for new flood insurance guidelines being drawn up by Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Mayor Brent Warr, a Republican elected shortly before Katrina hit.

Without the guidelines, businesses and residents are reluctant to start rebuilding, he said.

''Things are pretty depressing, but they're still holding out hope for the federal government," Warr said.

''Now the federal government needs to come up with some real answers for us quickly."

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