[StBernard] St. Bernard man to meet with Bush

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Aug 23 22:01:00 EDT 2006

St. Bernard man to meet with Bush
He'll tell president: 'Don't forget about us'
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
By Bruce Alpert
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- It takes a confident person to ride into this town and expect
the president to join you for dinner -- even if you're providing the grub.

But Rockey Vaccarella, who clung to the rooftop of his flooded Meraux home
for more than four hours after Hurricane Katrina hit before swimming to
safety, said he felt compelled to come to the nation's capital with a mock
but realistic-looking FEMA trailer to pass on a message to President Bush.

And even though almost everyone told him it was a lost cause, Vaccarella
will get his meeting with Bush -- not for dinner but a private session at
the White House this morning.

"I just want to shake his hand and speak for the Gulf Coast and let him know
the job ain't done and please don't forget about us," said Vaccarella after
getting word from the White House that the meeting was 99.9 percent definite
for today.

A White House spokesman confirmed that the meeting was on, although no
specific time had been worked out.

On Tuesday, Vaccarella met with Gulf Coast recovery coordinator Donald
Powell, and the St. Bernard resident was gracious but clear he still wanted
to meet with the leader of the free world.

"I welcome Mr. Powell with open arms, but my mission is to meet with the
president," Vaccarella said just before Powell appeared outside his trailer,
parked several blocks from the U.S. Capitol. He and Powell discussed
recovery efforts and shared some Cajun food prepared by Vaccarella's crew.

Vaccarella had threatened to hold back on the main course unless the
president showed, but quickly relented. When Powell asked about food and
suggested a chicken-fried steak, he offered up Southern hospitality. "I
don't think you want to eat that," he said. "How about some shrimp and
redfish and other good food?" Vaccarella, who lives with his wife and their
son in a FEMA trailer parked in front of their damaged house, said he wants
to deliver a simple message directly to the president, just as he did for

"I know some people think I'm an oddball who stood on his roof for 4½ hours,
but I really wanted to thank the president for the FEMA trailers and all
that he has done, but to remind him that while you have the whole world on
your plate, just don't forget about us down south," Vaccarella said.

Powell said Vaccarella represented the strong survival spirit and culture of
the New Orleans area and was "symbolic of a lot of people in Louisiana who
are very grateful for what the people in America have done."

Asked about the dual message that Vaccarella had brought that Louisiana is
grateful but still needs more help, Powell said he agrees more needs to be
done, but he urged residents not to lose sight at the "substantial progress"
that has been accomplished.

. . . . . . .

Bruce Alpert can be reached at bruce.alpert at newhouse.com or (202) 383-7861.

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