Amy Liu and her colleagues at the Brookings Institution in Washington keep a monthly tally of where the rebuilding stands [in New Orleans]. About 60 percent of former customers have electricity. Just over 40 percent have gas. Seventeen percent of the buses are running. Half the hospitals are closed. So are 77 percent of the child-care centers.Which is likely to be re-populated sooner: Beirut, or New Orleans?
At the risk of stating the obvious, it is amazing what damage floodwaters can do. In metro New Orleans, 160,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Katrina left the city itself with 12 million tons of debris. That is about seven times the amount produced when the World Trade Center collapsed. Before the storm, New Orleans had about 450,000 residents. Postal data released this month found 171,000 had returned. That is 38 percent.And who is doing a "heckuva job" now?
Brookings does not chart leadership, but presidential credibility waned early with six words: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” (Brownie was Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and his fumbling efforts drew national scorn.) President Bush did appear in the French Quarter two weeks later with a pledge to rebuild the city “higher and better.” But his attention has been sporadic, and his priorities have been abroad. Two months later, a front-page editorial in The Times-Picayune warned about broken promises. It says something about Bush’s Gulf Coast ambitions that his emissary to the region carries such an unambitious title: “federal coordinator.”Meanwhile, the hidden wound of racism in America just stays hidden.
If federal leadership has been halting, local leadership has halted. Mayor C. Ray Nagin appointed a commission to produce a rebuilding plan, and he has run from it ever since. The plan contemplated a city with a shrunken “footprint,” one limited to neighborhoods with plausible elevations and economics. This was rational from a planner’s point of view (the city cannot afford all the police, firefighters and utility lines it had) and lethal from a politician’s, since it would likely abandon many poor black neighborhoods and some that are not so poor. Greeted with howls of black outrage, it was dead before arrival. But talk of conspiracies abounds. Many black New Orleanians warn that whites are trying to drive them away, and a few even ask whether the destruction was planned.
I asked the fifth graders if they thought the country cared much about New Orleans. “No!” they said.She's right about that:
Tamera: “I don’t have a feeling they care.”
Logan: “President Bush, he stayed in the White House. He didn’t even come and see.”
Devonté: “His wife do. She cares.”
Chelsea: “They’re going to tear down all the projects! They’re building houses on them for people who have money!”
Israel: “A lot of racist people want to move the black people out.”
Tamera: “They bombed the levees. White people!”
Ranatza walked in, hardly surprised at what kids can hear on the streets. “Did black people get flooded?” she said patiently. “Yes. Did white people get flooded? Yes. Did rich people get flooded? Yes. Did poor people get flooded? Yes.”
The anxiety of waiting afflicts the city's affluent as well. Colleen Monaghan, 44, lived in the once-thriving neighborhood of Lakeview, where blocks of water-damaged homes sit vacant and exposed. The wall of floodwater that broke over poorly built levees caused $470,000 in damage to her home.With only $26,000 in insurance coverage, Monaghan turned to the Small Business Administration, which provides loans to homes and businesses damaged in natural disasters. She said she applied for a loan to rebuild her house a month after Katrina struck. In November, the agency informed her she would receive a $200,000 loan. But it was not until Wednesday that Monaghan received the money.Maybe because $110 billion has been allocated for Gulf Coast recovery, and only $44 billion has been spent. It isn't even clear that much has been spent yet, but if it has: where did it go? Not where it was needed:
"It's been an ongoing nightmare for the one whole year," said Monaghan. "I feel I'm finally beginning to see the light. I'm proud to be an American, but I've lost all confidence in our government."
Then we talked about how flimsy the trailers feel, especially in a storm, and how boring the trips to the Laundromat are and how much garbage is still on the ground. When I asked if there was anything else they want people around the country to hear, Israel spoke up again. His father, a National Guardsman, is in Kuwait, his flooded house was burglarized and someone killed his dog.And have for a long time; long before the levees broke.
“We deserve better,” he said.
Gotta work harder on that heart open to tragedy, open to hope.
Christians call it the way of the cross.
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