Prince Charles, Camilla see Katrina's devastating aftermath in New Orleans

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla flew into New Orleans on Friday for a brief glimpse of the ravaged city, and a chance to meet a few of the hundreds of thousands of residents whose lives were turned upside-down by Hurricane Katrina.

After an airport ceremony to greet their flight from Washington, D.C., the couple were traveling to the impoverished lower Ninth Ward, which was all but obliterated when water breached one of the levees that protected the city. They were due to meet rescue workers and one of the many families in the district who lost their homes.

Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, also were due to meet children and parents at the Cathedral Academy in the city's French Quarter _ the first school in the area to reopen after the storm _ before flying on to San Francisco later Friday.

The tightly choreographed visit was due to last barely two hours. But vice principal Peggy LeBlanc _ whose flood-destroyed school was merged with Cathedral after the storm _ said it was still significant.

"For people who have lost everything, something like this means a lot," she said.

"My impression is it's very important for the prince that this be centered on the children, and that this is a humanitarian act," she added.

More than 1,300 people died across five Gulf states when Katrina hit in late August, the vast majority of them in Louisiana. Eighty percent of New Orleans was inundated by floodwaters after the levee system failed.

Engineering experts say that despite extensive repairs, dozens of breaches remain in the city's levee system more than two months after the storm. Sen. Susan Collins, chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, warned this week that the repairs might be insufficient to protect residents if another storm should strike this season.

On Thursday, Charles said he and Camilla had been "utterly horrified to see the terrible scenes of destruction wrought by the hurricane across New Orleans and the surrounding area."

Charles, whose charity the Foundation for the Built Environment is helping to fund reconstruction projects, said he planned "to meet some of the brave and resilient people trying to rebuild their lives and to pay tribute to the astounding efforts of emergency workers."

Earlier Friday, the prince and duchess wrapped up a two-and-a-half day trip to Washington with a solemn tribute to American war dead and a meeting with young students of Shakespeare.

A military guard of honor greeted Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as they laid a wreath of red and white flowers at the National World War II Memorial.

Charles wore a dark suit and Camilla a black wool crepe suit and matching hat as the couple walked slowly around the inside of the vast monument _ a circle of 50 granite pillars flanked by arches around a pool and fountains _ before stopping to chat to veterans.

The couple also met students learning about England's greatest playwright at the Folger Shakespeare Library _ watching seemingly unnoticed from the audience as a group of fifth- to eighth-grade students performed scenes from "Much Ado About Nothing" before being led onstage to meet the cast.

The royal tour has met a muted response in a Washington preoccupied with scandals involving top White House and congressional figures, battles over a Supreme Court vacancy and the rising death toll in Iraq.

The weeklong tour, designed to bolster trans-Atlantic ties and promote Charles' environmentalist causes, also represents a coming-out for Camilla.

The 58-year-old married the prince in April after a relationship that stretched back three decades and was interrupted by their marriages to others. For many fans of the late Princess Diana, she remains the woman who broke up the fairy-tale royal romance, although both Charles and Diana acknowledged having affairs during a marriage that ended in divorce in 1996. Diana died in a car crash in Paris the following year, AP reported. V.A.

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