Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Orleans: Real Life "Survivor"

From the Detroit Free Press:

Published: August 29. 2006 3:00AM


IN OUR OPINION | KATRINA: ONE YEAR LATER: No time to end helping hands

August 29, 2006

A year later, even with all the pictures, so much about the situation on the Gulf Coast eludes the comprehension of the rest of the country -- including why everything is not yet all better. From accents to infrastructure, it's as if Louisiana and Mississippi are a different world.

But they are very much a part of America, and they suffered one of the worst natural disasters in history, followed by one of the least competent government responses. If the toll taken on humanity isn't enough, Americans should remember that a huge percentage of the nation's oil, gas and seafood comes from this region and its people.

A year later, the recovery from Hurricane Katrina has only begun. Vast swaths of the Gulf Coast remain as startling in their destruction today as they did when the storms' winds and floodwaters finally receded. Even the expected construction boom that was supposed to help New Orleans rebound has failed to materialize. People cannot work where there is no place to live.

"This is the first time in U.S. history where a city has sat dormant for almost a year," Moody's economist Ryan Sweet told the Newhouse News Service.

Some of the fault lies with the federal government, in particular the Army Corps of Engineers, which missed its own deadlines to shore up the levees that fatally betrayed so many last year, and which finally admitted that the barriers were inadequate in the first place.

Some of the fault lies with Louisiana's local and state governments, which cannot decide on a plan for redevelopment, resulting in exactly the type of "jack-o-lantern" rebuilding that everyone swore would be unsustainable. In the absence of direction, people will replant their roots in the most familiar ground. (Mississippi is rebuilding in a more organized fashion.)

Some of the fault lies with a federal government that appropriated $110 billion for rebuilding but has distributed less than half of it, most of which was spent was on emergency needs. People who have lost their homes, their belongings, their ancestries, cannot rebuild without money.

President George W. Bush's pep rally Monday under the Mississippi sun can't have brought much reassurance to residents for whom mail delivery and basic service remain elusive.

Yankees who might be tired of hearing Katrina's story, who might wish to turn their backs on the region, must remember that the people entrusted to care for this country compounded the damage of Mother Nature. The bills will continue to come due, and America has an obligation to make sure they are paid.

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