August 29, 2010

Many Promises Unfulfilled Five Years After Hurricane Katrina

Cross-posted at Mississippi Atheists

Hurricane KatrinaAugust 29 was once a day with no particular significance for me, but that seems like a long time ago. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, and maintained hurricane strength over more than 150 miles of our state. When the immediate effects were combined with significant damage to the infrastructure, massive flooding in New Orleans, and an inadequate federal response, we endured the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. And as difficult is it may be for those outside the South to grasp, the effects of Katrina are still evident today.

Personally, I find that the memory of Katrina continues to provoke strong and mixed emotions. I recognize how fortunate I was to make it through the storm with only a couple thousand dollars worth of damage and that I only had to endure a few days without water or electricity in the awful heat and humidity of a Mississippi summer. At the same time, this good fortune make me feel guilty, for I recognize the price so many paid. I feel a mixture of sadness and sympathy for those who suffered during the storm and its aftermath, including those who continue to do so today. And I feel an intense, burning anger toward those who so hopelessly botched the federal response while insisting they were doing as much as they could.

The region of Mississippi where I live has recovered reasonably well since Katrina. While considerable progress has been made along the coast, much work is left to do. For example, the mental health services in the Gulfport/Biloxi area are not even close to be adequately staffed or funded to deal with the emotional toll Katrina continues to exert on coastal residents. I find it nearly impossible to be optimistic that this is going to improve because it does not seem to be a priority for state or federal government.

The situation appears even more dire in New Orleans. The number of homeless people in the city is roughly double today what it was prior to Katrina. Providing low-income housing to replace the projects demolished after the storm has not been a priority. Crime continues to be a problem, not surprising given the level of desperation felt by many. The sense that some of New Orleans is still being intentionally neglected hangs heavy over the city.

Anniversaries can be positive occasions to reflect on progress and recovery (or the lack thereof). I had hoped that President Obama was serious about all the promises he made to rebuild this area and help the residents who suffered so much. Sadly, this does not appear to have been the case. He will be in New Orleans today, undoubtedly trying to reassure people that they have not been forgotten by his administrations. But five years after Hurricane Katrina, we have heard this all before.

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