The print, broadcast, and online media have all weighed in on the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the resultant flooding of over 80% of the city of New Orleans. Most of the reports we have been reading and watching want to tell a story of recovery, and there are many cases of success to be sure. Yet the reporting also shows how much remains to be done, especially in the areas of housing, medical services, and education. How are they faring according to reports?
Campbell Robertson of “The New York Times” wrote on 27 August
In November , a federal judge ruled that much of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina was a result of the negligence of the Army Corps of Engineers, vindicating New Orleanians, who had hammered this gospel for four years. In January, the federal government cleared the way for nearly half a billion dollars in reimbursement for the city’s main public hospital, an acceleration of funds that led to the announcement this week that nearly $2 billion more would be coming in a lump-sum settlement for city schools.
[Nevertheless,] more than 50,000 of the city’s houses — about 27 percent — remain vacant, the highest proportion of any city in the country. And there are roughly 100,000 people who have not returned since the storm.
The difficult balance is to create enticements (jobs, good schools, hospitals…) for people to return to, while accepting the fact that until those people return, local tax revenues will remain stretched to provide the enticements.
For the poor in the city, the ones who lived closest to the failed levees and who did not have the resources to take advantage of the mandatory evacuation orders given back in 2005, resentments have built up over the fact that the wealthy (and largely white) residents were able to return comparatively quickly and make decisions on behalf of their poorer citizens and their neighborhoods – some of those decisions being to demolish what was left of low-income housing and open the land to private developers.
The Washington Post’s Michael Fletcher stresses the tensions in his article “A Tale of Two Recoveries.” The strains between rich and poor (and the attendant racial divisions within them) that have developed over the last 20-30 years were made worse by the deluge.
The storm ravaged the city’s hospital system, leaving many residents in the largely black eastern part of the city a long ambulance ride from emergency health care. At the same time, more than 90 neighborhood health clinics opened and are showing promise at delivering preventive care and helping people manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. But there is concern that many of the health centers, funded with federal grant money that is winding down, are struggling to draw enough insured patients to become self-sufficient.
Of course, New Orleans was not the only spot to receive terrible damage from the storm. Recovery in Mississippi (which, in fact, took the hardest blow of the hurricane itself) has largely been a success story, albeit one without the dense population concentration of the greater New Orleans area. Geoff Pender of “The Biloxi Sun Herald” reports that recovery in Mississippi is not ahead of any schedule, but it is coming in ‘under budget’ in terms of what was requested in Federal assistance.
“If you look at the complexity and the scope, I think having already done $3.5 billion is really great,” said Lee Youngblood, spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority, which is administering the $5.5 billion in HUD funds. “We’ve had other states contacting us after they’ve had disasters saying, ‘Ours is not as big as yours, but how did you do it?’ You wouldn’t get calls like that if you weren’t doing a decent job.”
Dexter Rogers leaves his sports beat at The Huffington Post to draw the contrast of race when it comes to federal intervention under the Bush Administration, though his starting point is the symbolism of the Saints’ upset victory in the Superbowl this past January:
Remember in 2007 fires raced through Southern California. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed by the fires that roared out of control. President Bush took swift action in getting the necessary aid to the state of California and Republican Governor Arnold Schwartenegger. …
According to census data from 2005 66 percent of the state of Louisiana is comprised of people of color. Meanwhile the state of California is 66 percent white. Considering the latter it can be logically asserted Bush’s actions regarding the California catastrophe when compared to the victims of Hurricane Katrina was at least partially racially and politically motivated.
All agree that some improvement has been made and much is being done to rebuild New Orleans & the central-western Gulf coast. The difficult choices being made are likely to bring harsh reactions from aggrieved parties, but with community involvement and on-the-ground activism, hopefully some of the worst profiteering can be ameliorated. We certainly have not covered even a fraction of media reports on this anniversary, but we hope it is a fair portrayal of the tensions and opportunities reported thus far this week.