NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Vice President Dick Cheney toured parts of the ravaged Louisiana coast Thursday, reporting significant progress but warning that much remains to be done.

He defended the political appointees who are overseeing the federal relief effort against attacks by Democrats. And he suggested that “mental health issues” needed to be addressed across the stricken area, but offered no game plan on that score.

Overall, Cheney issued an optimistic prognosis for recovery. “We’ll get it done,” he said after touring a devastated Gulfport, Miss.

Cheney then flew here by helicopter, staying low and close to the ravaged coastline.

Later, Cheney was taking a ride in a Hummer to look at repairs to the levee.

Before coming to Louisiana, Cheney toured a hurricane-tossed neighborhood in Gulfport, Miss., where once-stately waterfront homes were splintered, off their foundations, some even carried and planted in neighboring yards.

“I think the progress we’re making is significant,” Cheney said. “I think the performance, in general, at least in terms of the information I’ve received from locals, is definitely very impressive.”

“That’s not to say there’s not an awful lot of work to be done – there is,” he added.

Cheney spoke to reporters along Second Street. Once it was two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. Now it’s essentially only one.

The vice president told reporters he was struck by the “very positive, can-do” attitude of Mississippians toward the help they are getting. In general, Mississippi officials have been much more complimentary of the federal hurricane response than those from Louisiana and, particularly, New Orleans.

President Bush dispatched Cheney to the region amid persistent criticism of the sluggish pace of the federal response to examine any bureaucratic red tape getting in the way of helping people and to focus on the long-term issues at hand.

Cheney met with local officials and, separately, with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Cheney walked about two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico along a street littered with broken wood, downed trees and furniture. Some houses were severely damaged, some hardly at all.

One passer-by hurled an expletive at the vice president. “First time I’ve heard it,” Cheney joked with reporters when asked if he was hearing a lot of such sentiments.

He talked to a man whose house was knocked off its foundation and had extensive roof damage and two or three arm chairs sitting in the front yard. Nearby, a bathtub sat upside down. A small panel truck rested 10 feet off the ground in the branches of a large oak tree.

Cheney visited Rebecca Dubuisson, who said she spent a year and a half adding an extension on her house only to see it wiped away by the hurricane.

The house that once stood between her place and the ocean was also gone. “We’ve got a beach view now,” she said, voicing a determination to repair her house.

Dubuisson said she didn’t want to criticize the relief effort. “I don’t know that you could have prepared for it,” she said.

Cheney said immediate needs for the victims include providing housing, supplies and clean up. He also said mental health issues need to be addressed, but he didn’t know how that would be approached.

He said another issue is determining whether insurers should pay for damages if homeowners’ insurance policies did not cover floods. Most insurance policies do not.

Most of the people Cheney met with were friendly.

An exception was Lynne Lofton, whose house further down the street was destroyed.

“I think this media opportunity today is a terrible waste of time and taxpayer money,” she said. “They’ve picked a nice neighborhood where people have insurance and most are Republicans.”

Cheney was also accompanied by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Cheney was asked about criticism that relief efforts were being led by Chertoff and FEMA Director Mike Brown, both political appointees with no disaster recovery experience.

The vice president said he believes that Bush “struck the right balance between political appointees and career professionals to oversee the relief efforts.”

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