Almost a year after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, nearly half of the city’s inhabitants are still waiting for financial help so they can return home – with the poor, once again, disproportionately affected. The Lower Ninth Ward was one of the areas hardest-hit by the floods, which killed more than 1,300 people. There, very little has changed since November, when the last of the water was pumped out.
Only one in five families living in public housing has been able to return. Many are still waiting for the some six billion euros of government aid promised for homeowners who either had no or too little insurance. One resident said: “You see the damage. You see what is going on with our properties. Look around us. We still have piles of rubbish that people are pulling out of their houses and a lot of times these people are pulling it out later. It is because the insurance company didn’t come through for them.”
Among the thousands of refugees living in mobile homes, many are thinking of leaving. Infrastructure is patchy in New Orleans and power cuts are frequent and even a plan for reconstruction is still to be launched.
Some question the city’s priorities. “Considering how they build a casino in, say, a week, two weeks, a beautiful huge casino with lights and fancy action and music and stereos and the whole thing. ..A year later, I wish they had something a little more reachable for those who don’t have it made, money wise, in the bank,” said one resident.
The tourism sector is back to about 40 per cent of its former strength, thanks largely to an effective promotional campaign, and hopes are high for the autumn.
But fears of another tragedy have not gone away, despite some 250 kilometres of repairs to the levees. Many residents claim they could all too easily be breached again.
Katrina remains a blot on the Bush presidency. The White House faced harsh words for what many saw as an unacceptably slow response to the crisis. Critics have compared the sums being spent in Iraq unfavourably with those still to be spent in New Orleans.