Friday, September 19, 2008

Katrina anniversary is good time to set the facts straight

Posted by neworleanscitybusiness on August 20th, 2007
By Deon Roberts, Online Editor

By the time the storm’s anniversary rolled around last year, Katrina fatigue was alive and well.

Many in America were sick of hearing about the Gulf Coast’s struggles. They had heard for 12 months about FEMA trailers, destroyed homes and sluggish federal aid.

As Katrina’s second anniversary approaches, it’s a given that there will be a boost in national media coverage. Some Americans will no doubt roll their eyes, groan and grumble as the national media presents stories of hurricane victims who are still without homes.

Some Americans will wonder why they should feel sorry for people who have had two years to rebuild. Katrina’s second anniversary is a good opportunity for America to understand why we haven’t fully recovered.

There’s good reason why St. Bernard Parish, eastern New Orleans and other portions of the metro area are still wastelands of empty, ramshackle houses where floodwaters reached as high as the roof.

The media should remind America that The Road Home is the reason why many Louisiana homes are not rebuilt. The federally funded program was meant to provide hurricane-affected homeowners with rebuilding grants of up to $150,000.

ICF International of Fairfax, Va., is heading up the program for Louisiana. To date, 184,189 people have applied to the program but only 42,340 or 23 percent of applicants have received funding. The point is more homes would be rebuilt if The Road Home would get money in the hands of homeowners quicker.

Streets and public buildings have not been rebuilt because federal recovery dollars are tied up in bureaucracy. This is not the fault of ordinary citizens. Rather, it’s owed to the way the federal Stafford Act controls how recovery funds can be spent.

Communities must begin repair work before they are reimbursed but must fill out onerous paperwork to access the funds. In some cases, the state does not have permission from the federal government to spend recovery dollars.

The media should remind America that there is still life in New Orleans. As one person commented on in May, “N.O. is dead. Fill it with water and make a state park out of it.”

But New Orleans is not dead. Residents have returned and rebuilt or are rebuilding. One recent report says the city’s population is about 273,600, 60 percent of its pre-Katrina figure.

The media should also use the anniversary to remind America how New Orleans got into this mess: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levees failed and led to the destruction of New Orleans. Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane that did not hit the city directly; it passed to the east of us with Mississippi taking the brunt of the storm. The point is our levees should have held up.

If the poorly built levees and floodwalls had not ruptured, New Orleans would not have flooded and the city today would look pretty much like it did pre-Katrina.

The national media are notoriously unsophisticated, although there are some exceptions. When the reporters descend on New Orleans for Katrina’s second anniversary, they need to explain why New Orleans still struggles.
The disaster wasn’t the fault of the residents and neither is the slow pace of the recovery.

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