The New Orleans Disaster

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I just spent four days at Loyola Law School in New Orleans delivering presentations to faculty and students. Television and the print media have not given us an adequate sense of the disaster that was and that continues. 80% of New Orleans was under water and even houses that did not sustain flood damage shared in experiencing extensive wind and rain damage. You were lucky if you had insurance and experienced wind and rain damage because that coverage was comprehensive. Flood insurance was totally inadequate.

Only a quarter to a third of the city’s residents have returned. Many returnees are living with relatives or sharing space in cramped trailers. Only a few of those who needed trailers got them. Some who got trailers are still waiting for keys. Many trailers have no water or electricity. On the way to church on Sunday we traveled through miles of uninhabitable homes. The Greek Orthodox Church of The Holy Trinity is the oldest Greek Orthodox congregation in America. Due to the efforts of parishioners and assistance from throughout the country, the church itself has been fully restored, but the attached community hall, school, and office space have not. At least a third of the parishioners have not returned, and it is not known if they will.

I stayed with a Loyola faculty member and her family. Her sister-in-law is currently living with them, because her house needs to be demolished. Wherever we drove there were both black and white poor, middle class, and wealthy neighborhoods that were all uninhabitable. On the day that we”formally”went to see the devastation, we drove for four hours through diverse areas with almost no occupied homes or trailers.

Some people who have returned are trying to salvage or rebuild their homes, but most are waiting to see what the federal government is going to do. In every other natural disaster, the federal government has quickly provided disaster and rebuilding relief. Very little has been done in the six months since Katrina. Yesterday George Bush had the audacity to blame it on Congress. This situation needs intelligent and strong leadership, and it has not been provided.

The overall effect of Katrina is similar to the tsunami which hit southeast Asia, except these are our own people. Where is George W? Is the Republican controlled federal government purposely failing to provide assistance because New Orleans is an overwhelmingly democratic city, and they don’t want the population to return?

Loyola New Orleans Law School, a small and relatively poor institution, had the social conscience to run classes in Houston for it’s first year students and those of Tulane University. The University of Houston donated space. Although schools around the U.S. took in second and third year law students from New Orleans, first years could not be accommodated because first year classes begin early. Loyola also ran specialized Louisiana Civil Law classes for those Loyola and Tulane third year students who need them to take the Louisiana bar exam. Tulane University, a much bigger and better endowed school, used the opportunity provided by Katrina to fire approximately 400 tenured faculty, eliminate entire schools and departments, and totally reorganize the university. Tulane provided no classes for its students.

Pressure needs to be brought on every level of the federal government to immediately provide disaster relief for rebuilding. The levees must be raised and strengthened. New Orleanians cannot rebuild until they know that they can survive the next hurricane season, which will arrive in less than six months.

–Marina Angel

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