Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Anger and Sadness Mark Katrina Anniversary

Today marks the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And sadly the question begs to be answered, why have "those dependent on government assistance to rebuild their lives," been overlooked and met with delays.

While middle- and upper-class neighborhoods have rebuilt using private insurance and contacts, residents of low-income areas such as the Lower 9th Ward and Holy Cross — roughly 20,000 of them — for the most part remain scattered throughout the region, their return uncertain.

The flooding that began after Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, delivered an estimated $150 billion worth of damage to the Gulf Coast region, making it the worst disaster in U.S. history. Of the $116 billion appropriated by Congress to Gulf Coast recovery, $34 billion has been earmarked for long-term rebuilding. But less than half of that has made its way through federal checks and balances to reach municipal projects.

Throughout the Gulf Coast, residents are asking why their government — at every level — hasn't done more to streamline the process and bring more rebuilding dollars to the region.

"We're working ourselves close to death," says Scott Darrah, a New Orleans civic activist. "But we can't move it past further than what we have today. The government needs to step up."

Yesterday, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, made the following statement on the eve of the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

“Two years after Hurricane Katrina there is still a long way to go to get the Gulf Coast region back on its feet. Too many families and businesses are still struggling with too much red tape and an incompetent federal response that put our kids in toxic trailers and mismanaged billions of taxpayer dollars. Two years ago, Katrina pulled back a curtain and showed the world the true extent of poverty and inequality that still exists in our country. Remembering this tragedy with photo ops isn’t enough. We must finally force accountability and action from the federal government that will get our families and small businesses back on track.

“When Katrina hit, there was no effective safety net to help the individuals and small businesses that were devastated by the storm. And two years later, we still lack a plan that ensures that a Katrina-like response never happens again. I’ve worked with Senator Mary Landrieu and others on a bipartisan basis for two years to provide the government with critical tools to respond more quickly and effectively in the case of future disasters. We passed a disaster loan reform bill in the Senate, and we need to get this legislation on the President’s desk and signed into law.”

“Many families and businesses owners have put themselves back on track and the Gulf Coast region is making progress because of their own hard work and determination. It’s long past time that Washington gives the victims of Katrina a policy that equals their incredible perseverance and hope.”

See here for more information about the legislation.

Bush made an appearance at a "recovering school in the Lower 9th Ward — a predominantly black, low income area that was all but obliterated by the storm" and led a moment of silence followed by platitudes.

"Better days are ahead," Bush said as he sought to assure residents that his administration had not forgotten the region and would make good on the promises of aid.

"We're still paying attention. We understand," the president said.

Protesters, remembering the government's slow response in the storm's immediate aftermath, planned to march from the Lower 9th Ward to Congo Square to spread their message that the government has also failed to help people return.

"People are angry and they want to send a message to politicians that they want them to do more and do it faster," said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, a Baptist pastor and community activist. "Nobody's going to be partying."

Today's anniversary is a stark "reminder of the desperation that filled New Orleans' flooding neighborhoods in the days after Katrina hit."

Images of dead bodies, people in the flood zones calling from their roofs and waiting days for help, and of the thousands of evacuees packed into the grimy and damaged Superdome, are still fresh in many minds.

Politicians have used the date to pitch policy. Scholars and activists have released a steady stream of reports on the state of recovery.

An international people's tribunal, spearheaded by legal activists trying to build a case under international law accusing the United States of human rights abuses during and after Katrina, has also been convened to take testimony from victims.

It's stunning to mark the two year anniversary of Katrina with the fact that in so many ways our government is still failing the people of the Gulf. As historian Douglas Brinkley pointed out in the WaPo a few days ago, victims of Katrina are "still in the middle of the Katrina saga" and suffering from the Bush Administration's "Reckless Abandonment."

A year ago The Dem Daily marked the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a few posts including one referring to an article in the Boston Globe that featured this photo of "Mounds of debris fill a waste collection point in New Orleans":

The sad fact is, 2 years later, when it comes to Hurricane Katrina, we're still "waiting for a leader."

Cross posted from The Democratic Daily.


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