Originally published 8.29.10
Today marks five years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29 and the levees breached.
As I write this blog, I am in my hotel room in New Orleans on a news assignment to investigate the state of the area. Since that dreaded moment back in 2005, I have been writing about the recovery, plight and struggles of Katrina survivors.
I returned to the Crescent City to see firsthand if much has changed particularly in areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East. The other day, I got my question answered….No!!
I was escorted through the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, which was hit the hardest by the floodwaters that submerged 80 percent of this city. One can’t help but visualize stranded people on rooftops, crying babies, floating dead bodies, and homes being swept away.
Yes, if you come here you will see many of the eco-friendly homes built by Brad Pritt’s Make It Right group but its minute in comparison to the many abandoned homes. You can still see the water line on some of the homes. You can still see the inspection “X” marked outside the doors. There are steps sitting on lots with a ghostly outline of where someone’s home once stood. (My photos above and below taken August 27 in the Lower Ninth Ward)
On this same day, I met Linda Smith. She lost everything in the flood and just now getting her home back in order. I talked to Dena Garner who started crying immediately as she told me the struggles of her family. I have attended a community housing forum in the Lower Ninth Ward as angry residents questioned local and national politicians about the government money that their community never received. I talked to 60-year-old Deborah Cola who was a victim of contractor’s fraud in 2006 when rebuilding her home and is now living in a one bedroom apartment with her 92-year-old father. She is angry!
The stories of struggle continue here and I will share more before I leave New Orleans.
To give you a picture of the state of New Orleans, here is part of the annual 2010 Katrina Pain Index report compiled by Bill Quigley, professor at Loyola University.
Five years after Katrina, tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans remain vacant or blighted. Tens of thousands of African American children who were in the public schools have not made it back, nor have their parents. New Orleans has lost at least 100,000 people. Thousands of elderly and disabled people have not made it back. Affordable housing is not readily available so tens of thousands pay rents that are out of proportion to their wages. Race and gender remain excellent indicators of who is underpaid, who is a renter, who is in public school and who is low income.
Five years after Katrina, the most liberal estimates are that 141,000 fewer people live in the metro New Orleans area. The actual population changes will not be clear until official Census Bureau findings are released in November, but it is safe to say that over 100,000 fewer live in the City of New Orleans.
The New Orleans metro area is made up of several parishes, primarily Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany. Orleans had 455,000 people before Katrina, now they have 354,000. Jefferson had 451,000 before Katrina, now they have 443,000. Plaquemines had 28,000 before Katrina, now they have 20,000. St. Bernard had 64,000 before Katrina, now they have 40,000. Source: Census Bureau
Louisiana residents are located in more than 5,500 cities across the nation, the largest concentrations in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio. A majority of displaced residents are women – 59% compared to 41% men. A third earn less than $20,000 a year. Source: Dana Alfred, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Corps (2007).
More than 1 in 4 residential addresses in New Orleans is vacant or blighted – by far the highest rate in the US. Though the numbers have been reduced somewhat in the last three years, 50,100 residential properties in New Orleans remain blighted or have no structure on them. Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
Over 5000 families are on the waiting list for traditional public housing and another 28,960 families are on the waiting list for housing vouchers – more than double what it was before Katrina and the government destruction of thousands of public housing apartments. Since the post-Katrina bulldozing of several major public housing developments, there has been more than a 75% reduction in the number of public housing apartments available. Source: Housing Authority of New Orleans.
Under Louisiana’s “Road Home” program to rebuild storm-damaged housing, rebuilding grants for homeowners on average fell about $35,000 short of the money needed to rebuild.
At least 19,746 applications for rebuilding homes that are eligible for funding have not received any money from the Road Home Program grant program. Source: The Road Home Program, Road2la.org
The number of students in public schools in New Orleans, which are over 90 percent African American, has declined by 43% since Katrina. Source: Southern Education Foundation. New Orleans Schools Four Years After Katrina.
According the White House, President Obama is scheduled to commemorate the anniversary today by delivering a message at Xavier University to recommit his administration to the rebuilding of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast. Can he really do it? Did former Pres. Bush leave him too much of a mess to clean up?
As you can see, the pain index is still high and the struggle is not over.
So why has people stopped talking about it all over the world?
More coming from New Orleans.
All photos by Jesse Muhammad
***August 31st Update*** I am at the airport in New Orleans preparing to return to Houston. But here’s two links to stories I wrote so far plus photos detailing what I heard and saw while here in New Orleans including the plight of survivors and reactions to Pres. Obama’s speech. I will add more soon plus give a state of the Black church in New Orleans report.
Katrina’s legacy still painful five years after disaster
Dear Mr. President: ‘We still need help’