‘Meeting Bush didn’t really change anything for me’

BRONWYNNE Bassier was desperate. Roaming the streets of her Biloxi, Mississippi, neighbourhood four days after Katrina, scavenging for food and clothes for her two-year-old son, Ms Bassier stumbled upon the one man who presumably could help: President George W Bush.

Rushing toward him, the 22-year-old single mother pleaded and sobbed. “My son needs clothes,” she cried. “I’ve lost everything.”

Momentarily stunned, Mr Bush appeared on the verge of tears himself as he listened. Mr Bush tried to direct her and her younger sister, Kim, toward a Salvation Army shelter down the road, but ultimately comforted them the only way he knew how: he hugged them.

“Hang in there,” he told Ms Bassier, kissing her forehead. “We’re going to take care of you.” Press cameras captured the moment and beamed the image of compassion around the globe.

A year later, Ms Bassier’s life remains like that of countless other Katrina victims: she lives in a FEMA trailer with her son and new husband. Her story offers a window into the workaday reality of life post-Katrina.

“Meeting (Mr Bush) didn’t really change anything for me,” she said. “I’ve been just like everybody else, trying to move forward with my life one day at a time.”

In a new Newsweek Poll, 51% of Americans say they don’t think Bush has followed through on his promises to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

To complicate matters, Ms Bassier — a native of South Africa — has had a hard time getting a work visa.

She’d applied for one after graduating from a local college last summer, but in the chaos of Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security lost the paperwork.

More than a year later, her application is still pending. In May, Ms Bassier sent a letter to the man who’d been there for her last year.

But as of last Thursday, the president still hadn’t responded. A White House spokeswoman confirmed last week that the administration received it, but said it had been forwarded to DHS.

“We don’t intervene in individual cases,” said deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

This chapter of Bassier’s story may yet have a happy ending: after Newsweek’s enquiries, Ms Bassier received a call on Friday from the White House inviting her to meet with President Bush yesterday during his visit to Gulfport to mark the first anniversary of Katrina. A White House aide told Newsweek the invitation had long been in the works, but they hadn’t been able to locate her until Friday. She planned to make her case in person for a work visa. And she wanted to thank President Bush for coming back. She’s not angry, but she’s looking for more than a hug.

(c) 2006, Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved.

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