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ISSUE 119 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/2/2005

Effects of hurricane linger

By Maura De Chant
Contributing Writer


Friday, December 2, 2005

Nearly three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region and New Orleans, there has been little progress made in rebuilding what is left of the destroyed area. Much fanfare has been made about the return of French Quarter businesses, but the fact remains that only 60,000 people currently live in New Orleans, a far cry from the 500,000 who called it home before the storm.

While the Garden District is thriving, the poorer areas of New Orleans do not even have electricity yet, much less viable places to live. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) intends to set up temporary trailer housing parks in East New Orleans, but according to Time magazine, overwhelmed workers have not been able to connect utilities to these areas, leaving them ghost towns.

Large areas of New Orleans are still abandoned, and many neighborhoods have to be completely bulldozed. Homes that sat in filthy, toxic water for several weeks are now infested with dangerous mold and cannot be salvaged.

Where is the federal government? Surely after the horrors that were the Convention Center and the Superdome, the government learned that it cannot sit back and squabble over bureaucratic territories while people are dying. FEMA certainly learned its lesson, and has done everything in its power to rectify the wrongs that were done in the first week after the disaster.

Of the $62 billion allotted for hurricane recovery, only $25 billion has been assigned to actual projects, and a shocking $37.5 billion remains locked in FEMA’s account. Just $6 billion has actually been spent on hurricane recovery.

Meanwhile, Katrina’s victims remain scattered across the country, unable to return to work in New Orleans because they have no jobs, and businesses in New Orleans cannot reopen because they have no employees.

Rather than step in and end this vicious cycle with a comprehensive recovery plan, FEMA threatened to stop paying for hotels as of Dec. 1.

FEMA has since backed down from that threat, but the Gulf region is still without a plan of action, and is in the midst of an economic crisis. Smaller towns in Mississippi were obliterated along with New Orleans, and Hurricane Rita wiped out most of the remaining infrastructure.

Paralyzed by the specter of Katrina, FEMA remains immobile and ineffective. President Bush threw enormous amounts of money at the problem, hoping to cover for his lackluster performance immediately following the catastrophe, but little progress has been made.

Southerners whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by the hurricanes are still in limbo. Thousands may never return home, unable to afford the cost of rebuilding or unwilling to return to the site of so much pain.

Rebuilding what Katrina and Rita destroyed will take years, not months, but neither FEMA nor the Bush administration seems to have grasped that fact.

FEMA must begin working more closely with local municipalities to determine what exactly is needed to rebuild. Then, the agency has to decide how to properly allocate its current funding to create the greatest benefit for everyone affected. Special attention must be paid to the lower income areas that were destroyed, as their residents are the least likely to be able to rebuild on their own.

Nor can rebuilding be done without due attention being paid to environmental concerns. Destruction of natural barriers contributed to the damage Katrina caused, and reconstruction efforts must be ecologically as well as economically sound.

Bureaucratic turf wars led to some of the unforgiveable delays immediately following Katrina, and such infighting must be set aside if the Gulf region is going to survive, let alone recover.

Staff writer Maura DeChant is a junior from West Bend, Wis. She majors in English and in history.





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