Rebuilding New Orleans: Katrina two years on
Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on 23 August 2005, and crossed southern Florida as no more than a moderate Category 1 hurricane, where it caused some deaths and flooding. It then strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico becoming one of the strongest hurricanes on record while at sea. The storm weakened before making its landfall as a Category 3 storm on the morning of 29 August 2005 in southeast Louisiana and at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line.
The storm surge caused severe damage along the Gulf Coast, devastating the several Mississippi cities. In Louisiana, the flood protection system in New Orleans failed in 53 different places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Katrina passed east of the city. 80% of the city and many neighbouring areas were flooded.
At least 1,836 people lost their lives because of Katrina and the subsequent floods. It was the deadliest US hurricane since 1928. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in US history.
The federal, state and local government reaction to Katrina was widespread. For a country which is spending huge amounts of money invading and then trying to pacify Iraq, it seems curious to many (within and outside the USA) that the same sense of urgency and commitment has not been applied towards rebuilding the homes and the lives of the very many citizens of New Orleans who lost everything as a result of Katrina.
The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 29 August 2007, exactly two years on from Katrina:
“New Orleans and other areas maimed by Hurricane Katrina should be pretty, pristine and perfectly rebuilt by now. Shouldn't they? After all, two years have passed since the storm battered Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of work-hours logged, and God knows how many prayers murmured to reassemble what the winds and waters of Katrina tore apart.
Actually, two years is not enough time to have completed all the needed repairs, especially in New Orleans, where insufficient levees contributed to most of the city's becoming submerged. But here's the problem in assessing the progress that has been made: Katrina reconstruction has suffered from so much waste, incompetence and indifference that it's impossible to separate challenges caused by nature from the man-made ones.
New Orleans has improved some since the hurricane:
• Its population is at 66 percent of its pre-Katrina size, up from 50 percent last year.
• Students are returning to schools, though in smaller numbers.
• The region's economy is stronger. Meetings and conventions are at 70 percent of their pre-Katrina level; tourism at about 60 percent. New Orleans' sales tax revenue has returned to 84 percent of its pre-storm level.
…Progress wouldn't have occurred without the tenacity and toil of survivors, and of volunteers who trekked to the Gulf Coast from around the country."
One major mobiliser of NGOs has been Habitat for Humanity International. One of its key partners has been Project Homecoming organised by the Presbytery of South Louisiana.
With the help of some 70,000 volunteers, more than 1,100 homes have already been built or are under construction in the Gulf Coast Recovery Program in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. And every month, volunteers start working on 52 more homes.
If you are passing by New Orleans, on vacation or next year for Mardi Gras, and if you are a dab hand with a hammer, why not stay longer and volunteer your time and muscle power towards this magnificent volunteer effort. You will not just be helping the victims regain their homes and rebuild their lives in the city where they want to live; but you will be showing that people care, and perhaps shaming government into recognizing that they could and should do better.
Habitat for Humanity’s Katrina Relief: www.habitat.org/gulfrecoveryeffort
Presbytery of South Louisiana’s Project Homecoming: www.pslrecovery.org/home.html
Facts about Katrina: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina