Donna Armstrong waves to President Bush's motorcade Wednesday in Bay St. Louis. Armstrong, who traveled over ten miles from Diamondhead to catch a glimpse of the president, said she was "tickled" by the sight. Image: J. Brecher / MSNBC.com
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – President Bush’s two-year anniversary visit to Katrina’s Ground Zero may have been a carefully scripted photo opportunity designed to keep all but a hand-picked few far away from the nation’s chief executive, but that didn’t stop one of his biggest local fans from giving up a chunk of her day to catch a glimpse of her hero.
“How can people criticize him?” demanded Donna Armstrong of Diamondhead as she stood outside the church compound where Bush was meeting with local mayors and business leaders.
“He gave me a home,” said Armstrong, referring to the FEMA trailer she and her family lived in for 18 months while mucking out and rebuilding their home, inundated by more than eight feet of seawater in Katrina’s storm surge.
Armstrong was the only local who waited through Bush’s entire hour-long stop at Our Lady of the Gulf Parish Center for his motorcade to leave because “I admire him so much.”
There are more stories about what the federal government did wrong in the wake of the storm hereabouts than there are shrimp in the gulf, but Armstrong is not among those telling them. “I just don’t get it,” she said. “How many billions is enough?”
Most Hancock County’s residents appeared unaware that the president was in town, which was just the way the Secret Service wanted it. Even local police officers said they had only been informed of their special details Wednesday morning.
The president’s helicopter landed west of Waveland so his fast-moving motorcade could take him up Beach Boulevard, where he would have seen work under way to replace a few of the most expensive homes in the county.
Twenty-seven vehicles spirited Bush and his entourage into the church compound while federal agents and local police swarmed the area in patrol cars, a small helicopter, all-terrain vehicles on the beach and speedboats just offshore.
Local officers kept onlookers at least a block away from the event, held indoors to start and then outside in the lee of construction trailers.
While the casually dressed president cited all the progress that has been made since the hurricane came ashore here, with the rebuilt CSX railroad and Highway 90 vehicle bridges in the background, Armstrong held her vigil in the 90-degree heat and 60 percent humidity.
As the motorcade headed back toward Air Force One, she was rewarded with a wave from Bush himself.
“It was great. It was awesome. I was tickled.”
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