The Big Un-Easy

A story with this headline by Sean Cockerham in Monday’s (July 30th) Miami Herald caught our eye:

“New Orleans homeless hole up in Hurricane Katrina’s abandoned buildings”

“There’s a gigantic hole in the roof of the abandoned building where Ralph Paze lives in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans,” is how Sean began. “The dilapidated couch where he sleeps is shoved off to the side to be more or less clear from the rain that pours in.

“It could be worse, said Paze, who survives by collecting cans for recycling. He used to stay in a different abandoned building not far away, a place where he kept a few belongings.

“‘I left in the morning to go pick cans, and when I came home that night the house had been demolished,’ he said.

“Paze is among the estimated 4,900 in a New Orleans-area homeless population that’s nearly two and a half times bigger than it was seven years ago, before the region’s mismanaged levees failed, flooding the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“The majority of the homeless, like Paze, sleep in the abandoned buildings that remain as a legacy of the storm. There are roughly 40,000 such buildings, some still bearing the search-and-rescue markings that indicate whether dead bodies were found inside after the flooding. A quarter of the residential housing in the city remains vacant, even as much of New Orleans has enjoyed a remarkable recovery from the flooding. This is an aspect that most of the tourists don’t see, the other side of the coin from the celebrated cuisine and music …”

Well, we went out of our way to see it late in February of 2008. What we saw prompted us to comment on Karina’s devastation in our Vol. XIV, Art. 24 (“Reviewing the review”). “To our surprise,” we wrote, “even though Katrina’s visit was thirty months earlier, what we saw was shocking.

“Mile after mile of deserted residential areas were still rubble. Nothing but rubble, as though a ten-mile wide tornado had just passed through – bleak evidence of the failed response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and those other government agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are supposed to deal with our nation’s catastrophes.

“Although blame was initially assigned to lower-level government officials, as well as to local Louisiana and Mississippi officials, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) subsequently published a redeeming report, and assigned principal blame not on those lower-level personnel but on to senior official at the DHS. Until the GAO report was published, the general public was relying on the word from a higher authority (you know who) that ‘Brownie’, one of the underlings in the DHS, ‘… was doing a heckuva job.’

“In a remarkable assessment of the pitiful conditions in that city, Ron Brinson described the aftermath of the U.S. government’s lack of concern for the citizens of the ‘Big Easy’ in the December 7th, 2005 issue of the Charleston Post and Courier, and in our Vol. VI, Art. 14 commentary we quoted a few of Ron’s insightful observations. It’s time we reviewed those observations, and who knows, maybe someone in authority will sit up and take notice. Ron wrote:

‘More than 100,000 homes and businesses were destroyed, and 100 days after Katrina, half of New Orleans is without power. The power company is in bankruptcy and has indicated that if it survives, rates will likely double next year …

‘The disaster scattered New Orleans’ population of 470,000 people – estimated to be 70 percent native born. Only 70,000 have returned, stranding the original economy in a void of human resources. For too many of New Orleans residents, there is no home at home …

‘There are few grocery stores, limited hospital services and the dynamic New Orleans neighborhood church community is quiet …

‘Predictably, the French Quarter and central business district are rebounding nicely, but nearby, huge sections of the city remain desolate wastelands, the mute summaries of death and destruction …’

“We added some thoughts of our own to Ron’s criticisms.

‘What Ron didn’t include in his commentary,’ we wrote, ‘are the murmurings of the those around the country with respect to the government’s unconscionable treatment of the victims of Katrina. These murmurings appear regularly in hundreds of websites and even in the “letters to the editor” sections of our newspapers. Thoughtful Americans are wondering why:
– the administration is “staying the course” in its efforts to promote death and destruction on foreign countries while refusing to prevent death and destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi;
– about 200,000 uniformed Americans are retained in Iraq just when their presence is so badly needed to shore up the Gulf States – our Gulf States;
– paltry funds are being metered out for the welfare of our disenfranchised, our sick and our elderly while shelling out more than $ 250 billion in our aggressive attempt to take over a third-world country like Iraq.

‘Is it any wonder that the city of New Orleans … teeters in a fiscal meltdown? Here we are, almost three years after Katrina’s assault, and although things are still in a state of disrepair, some officials are not the least bit bashful about feathering their own nests. For instance:
– The executive director at the Port of New Orleans has just requested $ 250 million for an unwarranted expansion program. (Check the port’s growth figures.)
– Rodolfo Sabonge, a.k.a. “Senor Sponge”, had the gall, just last Friday, to address New Orleans business leaders in a brazen attempt to direct their attention (and fortunes) toward the needs of his Panama Canal expansion program.

[Expansion programs? With so much rubble underfoot? Louisiana needs a GAO.]”