Tuesday, August 29, 2006

new orleans: one year later

This morning at 9:38 a.m., Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, Louisiana rang bells to signify the anniversary of the moment the first levee broke during the disastrous run of Hurricane Katrina exactly one year ago. According to Wikipedia, Katrina was "the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States." Today, the nation looks back to the catastrophe that happened one year ago and how we dealt with it and are still dealing with it today.

Politicians across the nation continue to lambast the slow pace at which the government has intervened in the situation. Senator Hillary Clinton, D-New York, said today that she was ready to see the government "step up and do a better job."
A year later, the results are still unacceptable. Contracts for rebuilding are going out to big corporations with ties to the administration while the people who live in the Gulf Coast are being shut out of opportunities. We saw people evicted from hotels and clamoring for housing while 10,000 trailers sat unused at an Arkansas airport. FEMA has already wasted $1.4 billion, with much of the money it spends still not getting to those who need it most.
Senator Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has called Katrina "a national disgrace" and recommends that the White House take the following actions: "rebuild the levees to withstand another Katrina, focus on rebuilding schools and colleges, and extend unemployment benefits to displaced Gulf Coast workers."
The people of the Gulf deserve a response from their government that's as good as the American people. Instead the White House "recovery plan" starts and stops with public relations. In the meantime, the Gulf Coast sits vulnerable -- almost defenseless against the next storm -- with schools in desperate need of repair and displaced workers in need of help.
MoveOn.org has launched a new book called It Takes a Nation: How Strangers Became Family with a forward by Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill. The book showcases families that were forced to evacuate from the Gulf Coast in the devasating wake of Katrina. Every cent of the profits will be donated to ACORN to help "protect evacuees' rights and rebuild New Orleans right." You can find out more and purchase the book here.

Fortunately, parts of New Orleans were spared and have become fully functional over the past year, CNN reports. Many places are open for business or plan to resume regular schedules before the year is out.
"We are a tale of two cities," said Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We have a long way to go in those residential neighborhoods."

However, much of uptown, downtown, the French Quarter, and the business, Garden and Warehouse districts -- all areas that draw out-of-towners -- was "spared from the flooding and they're all thriving now," Romig said.
Even the once-ravaged Louisiana Superdome advertises its September 25 reopening, just in time for the Saints' first home game -- an NFL Monday-nighter against the Atlanta Falcons.
Other areas were not so lucky. Many places sit in ruins. On a tour today with a group of House Democrats, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said that "it's hard to believe this is the United States." President Bush is also expected to tour the area this week; he is expected to arrive in New Orleans later this evening.

Even if you have already donated money, food, or volunteered your time in the effort, please continue to do what you can to help rebuild and recover in New Orleans and other areas on the Gulf Coast. Buy the book from MoveOn.org, donate to UNICEF or Oxfam America, and let your elected officials know that it's time to step up, even if it is a year too late.

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