Sep 4, 2006
Marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, George Bush revisited New Orleans. Standing once again as a tourist in front of St. Louis Cathedral, Bush declared,“It may be hard for those who have endured the last year to really have that sense of change, but for a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing.”
Bush is right: Things are changing – in ways that definitely benefit the wealthy at the expense of workers and the poor. The areas where most of the rebuilding has occurred are those of the wealthy and the businesses of the French Quarter. These are also the mostly white areas. These areas may have suffered less damage, since they were located on higher ground and were more protected. But they are also the areas where the most services have been restored.
Overall, less than half the population has returned to the New Orleans area. It’s even fewer people in areas like the Lower Ninth Ward where only 13% of the homes and business have been reconnected to electricity. And in small towns along the Mississippi, less than 5% of the homes are being rebuilt.
Most ordinary people cannot return because there is no place for them to live – even today. It took FEMA months to bring in trailers, but most of them aren’t in New Orleans. Thousands of them are still standing empty in Hope, Arkansas, hundreds of miles away!
For people to return to the poorer areas of the city, they must have a place to stay, located near or on their property, until they can rebuild. They must have services. They must have public transportation, schools and hospitals. The politicians have provided almost none of these necessities.
The majority of public transportation routes are not working. Only 17% of the city’s buses are in operation.
Only 50 out of 128 public schools have reopened. The federal government recently allocated 24 million dollars for schools – but only for charter schools.
The city’s public hospitals, which the poor and uninsured always depended on for health care, have not reopened.
The lack of housing and services shows that the politicians are determined to block the return of tens of thousands of poor, mostly black, working people to the city. FEMA officials cynically lied during those 5 days a year ago while they left thousands of poor people stranded in the Super Dome and Convention Center. Likewise, politicians like President Bush and Mayor Nagin have been shedding crocodile tears ever since.
But while they cynically shed these tears for the television cameras, what they have actually done is throw tens of thousands of people to the wind, hoping they will disappear – either dead or alive – but in any case, never to return to live in New Orleans again.