New Orleans Katrina Response Part II

We just returned from our first post-Katrina visit to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. What we saw proves there is no such thing as real estate. In that area it is in an unreal state.

We visited the three breaches in levies. When they burst a mountain of water rushed across the area. The Lower Ninth Ward was devastated. Here most houses were wooden and did not withstand the onrush. Most were leveled and washed away some distance. A few some distance from the breaches were left leaning. The height of the water was indicated by some refrigerators being on roofs. As reported this area was occupied mostly by “poor blacks.”

Minister Faricon said the levies were blown in order to force poor blacks out of New Orleans. Our visit to the other levy breaks dispute this. We drove through are area as vast as East Cobb where there were houses valued at from $250,000 to two million dollars. Doors were open, windows out, interiors stripped, possessions gone, and dry mud two to three feet deep. The occupants of this vast area were middle to upper income people. Yachts and other large vessels are piled on each other. The Metairie Country Club and the Yacht Club are destroyed. Were levies blown to drive these people out of town? No!

It is going to take years to rebuild New Orleans. The Gulf Coast will respond more rapidly in that they have better leadership and the area was basically swept clean. There is a support system a mile inland at most places.

Leadership in New Orleans is minimal. One of the candidates for mayor is a clerk of court who oversees elections. She wasn’t at a forum last week involving all candidates. She was in jail. Persons whose houses are repairable are reluctant to act not knowing if the city will condemn their entire area and tear down their houses.

FEMA has such a negative reputation their employees don’t wear their uniforms. We saw vast lots of unused trailers. Tax payers are paying $3,000 a month storage per trailer. Many assigned trailers were on individual homeowners lots and had been for weeks but are still not hooked up and are unusable.

Finding an open grocery, pharmacy, or gas station may require a drive of ten miles or more. The few stores that are open close at 5:00 PM because of a shortage of employees. A random fast food place might be found open. They pay $11.00 an hour and a $5,000 to $10,000 bonus at year’s end.

Many people will not return to these devastated areas. It will not be financial or physical uncertainty that prevents their return. It is emotional. There is a heaviness, an overall depressive environment that prevails. Many experienced so much they are in effect “shell shocked.” Just being there a few days enables one to understand this.

Ironically the very thing that was built to save New Orleans led to its destruction. Years ago drainage canals were dug to connect the Mississippi River with Lake Pontchartrain in order to divert flood waters from the river to the lake and spare the city in the event of upland flooding. The winds caused an extraordinary rise in the lake level that backed water up these canals and stressed the levies to the breaking point.

The “sliver on the river,” the beautiful older section of uptown New Orleans, was high enough that it experienced minimal damage. This coupled with the French Quarter will be the hub for a new smaller New Orleans.

Over 100 churches are no longer existent. One pastor whose flock is scattered rotates each month going to Houston, Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, and Atlanta to meet with remnants of his congregation in worship. Church groups from across America have been major disaster recovery groups to aid the city. Little publicity has been given this but the citizens readily acknowledge it. If you are part of a church that is sending a team —- go.