Tuesday, July 29, 2008

They still won't go - the Katrina Chronicles

In the Friday, 25 July 2008 Baton Rouge Advocate, there is an interesting and fundamentally sad article on Louisiana residents and their attitudes about hurricane evacuations. According to the story, 17% of those surveyed – almost all of whom likely suffered in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, would NOT leave their homes again if told to by authorities. And, as Jerry Sneed, director of the Office of Preparedness for the City of New Orleans, put it in the article - “I don’t know why they’re so reluctant,” he added. “It’s as if they don’t trust anybody.”

Well duh! Has he forgotten the days that New Orleans residents spent clinging to roof tops waiting to be rescued? Did it slip his mind how many residents of Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, returned to slabs instead of homes? Does he not know the area’s history enough to know how fiercely proud of their homes most of my fellow Louisianians are?

Here’s the thing. While I and many others worked really hard to put the area right after Katrina (I was a Corps of Engineers Blue Roof staffer in Hancock County, Mississippi), the overall government response was too slow, too small, and too disorganized to make much difference. Most of the reconstruction successes have come, not from anything FEMA did, but from church groups, not for profits, and, of all things, the Amish community. I was on the ground, picking my way through broken house, crumpled roads, and downed power lines while FEMA contractors sat in air conditioned call centers wondering why no one was calling in for help. Seriously. So when I hear emergency officials ask why no one on the Gulf Coast trusts government, especially as related to hurricanes. I can only shake my head. They STILL don’t get it.

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