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THE ISSUES

Originally Published: 8/30/2006

NEW ORLEANS:  ONE YEAR AFTER

THE LEVEES WERE BREACHED

By The Issue Wonk

 

August 29, 2005 four (4) of the levees in New Orleans were breached.  Hurricane Katrina, as it hit New Orleans, was only about a Category 2 hurricane.  The bulk of the hurricane hit Mississippi.  And the bulk of the problems in New Orleans resulted from flooding after the levees broke, not from the hurricane.  However, the pressure on the levees, the “storm surge,” reached 12 to 19 feet at Lake Pontchartrain, and that was due to Katrina.  More than 80% of New Orleans population was evacuated prior to the storm.  (See Wikipedia)  While the devastation in other parts of the Gulf Coast was horrendous, I’m concentrating here on New Orleans, primarily because most of the disaster could have been avoided.

 

Here’s some interesting information.

 

The People & Living Conditions

 

1,577 dead in Louisiana alone, either directly or indirectly.1

 

About 50 bodies (half of those in New Orleans) have been found in the last year but remain unidentified.  The Louisiana State Medical Examiner estimates that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of bodies will never be found.1

 

Less than half of the pre-storm population of 460,000 to 485,000 has moved back.1,2  “The population is thought to be roughly what it was around 1880.”2

 

205,000 residences, including 123,000 houses and more than 80,000 apartments, were washed away or significantly damaged.1

 

More renters were displaced than homeowners.  However, in New Orleans Parish rent is now up 39% over pre-flood rent.3

 

Manufactured homes bought by the government last year can’t be sent into the worst hit areas because rules don’t allow their use in floodplains.1

 

“Prior to Katrina, there were 7,100 public housing units in New Orleans; 5,100 were occupied and 2,000 were slated for destruction.  In July 2006, only 880 of the public housing units were occupied with 5,000 slated for destruction, including many that were not damaged.”3

 

“FEMA flailed and flip-flopped on its contracting policies for trailers, mobile homes, and other temporary shelter.  The first big contracts were handed out non-competitively to 4 well-connected companies – Shaw Group, Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp.  Then in October FEMA director R. David Paulison promised to rebid the contracts after Congress complained that smaller companies, especially local and minority-owned firms, should have a chance to compete for the work.  A month after that, FEMA said the new contracts would not be awarded until February.  That deadline came and went, and then in March a FEMA official announced that the contracts weren’t going to be rebid after all.  A week later FEMA reversed itself again, giving up to $3.6 billion in business to small and minority-owned firms.”5

 

Health Care

 

New Orleans has lost half of its physicians and has a shortage of about 1,000 nurses.2,4  Nearly 75% of the psychiatrists have left.2

 

44% of adult caregivers now lack health coverage and 34% of children in FEMA-subsidized communities have at least one chronic health condition that requires treatment, but half of the affected children no longer have a medical provider.7

 

Less than half of the city’s hospitals are open,1 meaning there is a severe inability to received immediate care from emergency rooms.4

 

Infrastructure

 

While 85% of the hotels have re-opened, life is pretty bleak for anyone other than a tourist.1

 

“The water and sewage system is in desperate shape.”  More than 85 gallons of drinking water, more than two-thirds of the water pumped into the pipes, are leaking into the ground every day, making sinkholes more and more common.1

 

60% of New Orleans homes still lack electricity.3

 

Only 50 to 56 of the 128 public schools are open.1,2  34 are self-governing charter schools.2

 

As of June 2006 child care facilities were at 21% of their pre-storm capacity.3

 

Mail service is spotty.  Garbage pickup is uncertain.1

 

Only 8 of the 13 public libraries have re-opened.1

 

Only 49% of the New Orleans bus routes have resumed and only 17% of the buses are operational.3,7

 

Nearly a third of the trash in New Orleans has yet to be picked up.4  “More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina.  So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding. . . FEMA gave each of 4 companies contracts worth up to $500 million to clear hurricane debris.  This spring government inspectors reported that the companies – AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., Phillips and Jordan Inc of Knoxville, Tenn., Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and ECC Operating Services Inc. of Burlingame, Calif. – charged the government as much as 4 to 6 times what they paid their subcontractors who actually did the work.”5

 

Reconstruction

 

President Bush said in his radio address of August 26, 2006 that he had “committed $110 billion to the recovery effort.”  Yet less than half has been spent, and much of that has gone to immediate relief efforts.  The rest has been subject to bureaucratic delays, political wrangling, mismanagement, and fraud.1

 

U.S. grants for rebuilding houses, not approved by Congress until June 2006, won’t get to New Orleans residents until September at the earliest.1

 

$17 billion was approved by Congress to rebuild homes in Louisiana and Mississippi.  But not one house has been rebuilt with that money in either state.6

 

The city has placed a deadline of August 26, 2006, one year after the storm hit, for homeowners to “gut or otherwise clean up their properties.  People who don’t comply with the deadline after being put on notice face a range of possible penalties, from liens being placed on their property to the seizure or destruction of homes.”  The Lower 9th Ward is exempt from this deadline but residents are expected to take care of their damaged houses by an unspecified future date.6

 

A large proportion of the dwellings destroyed were occupied by renters, but only a fraction of the federal housing assistance has been earmarked for rental units.7

 

Economic Recovery

 

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved more than $10 billion in loans, but only $2 billion has been awarded.6  As if May 2006 the SBA had denied 11,500 small business applications from Louisiana, while approving 11,400, only 4,200 of which have received any money.3

 

About 60% of the businesses in New Orleans have not re-opened.8

 

Fewer than half of the restaurants have re-opened.1

 

The Levees

 

Assessments by the head of the Army Corps of Engineers recently expressed skepticism that the New Orleans levees could withstand a hurricane with a heavy storm surge this year.9

 

“White House Katrina recovery czar Donald Powell has said that the administration intends to wait for the completion of a $20 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study, due in December 2007, before it decides whether to enhance the flood protection system in southern Louisiana enough to resist a Category 5 hurricane.”  [Emphasis added.]  “A preliminary draft of the study released in July was widely criticized because it omitted 5 projects that state officials say should be started right away.  At the same time, it focused on a massive levee that would stretch hundreds of miles along the Louisiana coast while paying only lip service to the critical task of shoring up the state’s vanishing wetland, which provide a natural barrier to hurricane flooding.”5

 

The levee system is now back to pre-storm levels.  Bringing the system up to being able to withstand a Category 3 hurricane is to be achieved by 2010.5

 

NOTE:  For some interesting data see:  Liu, Amy, Fellowes, Matt, & Mabanta, Mia.  Katrina Index:  Tracking Variables of Post-Katrina Recovery.  The Brookings Institution, Updated August 8, 2006.

 

_______________

 

1  Jensen, Kristin.  Katrina – One Year Later:  A City in Ruins, Then and Today.  Bloomberg News, August 26, 2006.

 

2  Nossiter, Adam.  The Katrina Year – A Future, Dimly Seen:  Outlines Emerge for a Shaken New Orleans.  The New York Times, August 27, 2006.

 

3    The Faces of Hurricane Katrina:  A Portrait of Poverty Throughout America.  Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund.

 

4    New Orleans: One Year Later.  Mayor Ray Nagin Talks About Efforts to Bring the Crescent City Back to Life.  CBS News, August 27, 2006.

 

5    Crenson, Matt.  Gov’t Fulfills Few Katrina Promises.  The Associated Press, August 19, 2006.

 

6     Bohrer, Becky.  New Orleans Sets Home Gutting Deadline.  The Associated Press, August 27, 2006.

 

7     Reports Document Post-Katrina Failures:  Studies of Storm, Aftermath Paint ‘Bleak Picture’ on Eve of 1st Anniversary.  The Associated Press, August 22, 2006.

 

8      Eaton, Leslie.  The Katrina Year – Closed Until Further Notice:  New Orleans Shops Struggle to Survive.  The New York Times, August 25, 2006.

 

9 Roberts, Michelle.  Army Corps Worries About Big Easy Levees.  The Associated Press, August 26, 2006.

 

 

© The Issue Wonk, 2006

 

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