Yesterday, two New Orleans journalists, Jason Berry, who writes for
New Orleans magazine, and Lolis Eric Elie, columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
spoke at the National Press Club in Washington about the real nature of the
situation in New Orleans and surrounding parishes.
The picture they painted of the city is sobering. Only some 100,000
people, out of a total population of 467,000, have returned to New Orleans,
just a month and a half before the famous Mardi Gras celebrations. However,
the national media and their corporate friends in the urban development business,
will paint New Orleans during the next Mardi Gras celebration on February 28
as a city coming back from disaster. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On November 24, 2005, WMR reported, "Florida mental
health professionals report that hundreds of evacuees scattered along the
Florida Panhandle are ticking time bombs due to the effects of post traumatic
stress syndrome from both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita." In addition,
WMR reported, "These people are from all walks of life, professionals
like doctors and lawyers and those who were from the lower end of the economic
scale," related one source close to the scene in Florida. He added, "what
they have in common is that they've lost everything, including the will to
live." Mental health workers say that some of the evacuees are showing
signs that may result in suicides and murder-suicides."
Bush to New Orleans: "Drop Dead!" And they are.
Without regular telephones and dealing with unresponsive insurance companies,
New Orleaneans and their neighbors in adjoining parishes are living in a "cell
phone hell" and experiencing an insurance mudslide, according to Berry.
According to the two New Orleans journalists, post traumatic stress syndrome
is taking its toll on people from all walks of life in the storm-ravaged area
of the Gulf Coast. Filmmaker Stevenson Palfi, whose credits include, "Piano
Players Rarely Play Together," committed suicide on Dec. 14, after having
lost most of his property and possessions in Katrina.
Dr. James Kent Treadway, a well-known pediatrician in the Uptown district,
also committed suicide in his damaged house on November 16. An increase in suicides
is being reported from St. Tammany Parish and incidents of murder-suicides are
also increasing among evacuees in Louisiana and Texas. In fact, today, psychoanalysis
is one of the few booming businesses in New Orleans.
The final death count from Katrina may never be known. Many people were washed
out to open waters. There is no one to claim the bodies of the elderly and indigent.
There is a profound sense of abandonment in New Orleans. FEMA has still not
started moving transitional housing trailers into the city, preferring to leave
residents scattered across the country in evacuation locations. Republican Mississippi
received five times as much in Federal aid per household than Louisiana.
The two journalists reported that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New
Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin muzzled themselves after at first criticizing Bush because
the president threatened them with abandonment unless they stopped their criticism
of the Federal response. They are apparently petrified of Bush after he threatened
them with no assistance.
Berry pointed out that when Hurricane Betsy struck Louisiana in 1965, Democratic
Senator Russell Long called President Lyndon Johnson and said, "My people
are suffering." Johnson quickly summoned Long to board Air Force One and
they flew from Washington to New Orleans where Johnson personally met with the
affected people, black and white, rich and poor. On the other hand, Bush's trip
to New Orleans was a publicity stunt punctuated with photo ops with carefully
People in Louisiana who are trying to pay mortgages on destroyed property are
going bankrupt and have little protection for the new bankruptcy law passed by
the Congress and pushed by George W. Bush. FEMA assistance is handed out randomly,
according to a FEMA official in New Orleans.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans is talking about closing half its churches in
New Orleans, including some historical churches like St. Augustine, home to
the Tomb of the Unknown Slave and the second oldest African-American Catholic
church in the United States.
The Army Corps of Engineers is still not doing anything on stopping the loss
of the coastal littoral. Before Katrina, Louisiana lost some 40 miles of coastline
over the last three decades. Congress has only appropriated $200 million for
a coastal restoration study when $14 billion is required for coastal restoration
and another $25 billion is needed for Category 5 hurricane levee preparation.
In what may be a deal with the devil, Republican Rep. Richard Baker's Recovery
Corporation Bill would buy out destroyed properties from their owners and resell
them to exploitative developers. The situation on land re-development is all
the more ominous considering that some 300,000 indebted residents are no longer
in New Orleans. And in a sign of the times, Nagin and Blanco are not the most
important people involved in New Orleans' future. That honorific goes to Joe
Canizaro, the head of First Bank & Trust and New Orleans most important
real estate developers. New Orleans is now suffering under the dictatorship
of competing re-development committees.
Bush's rhetoric about the improving national economy rings hollow in New Orleans.
New Orleans and the Gulf remain indelible and shameful stains on Bush's otherwise
dismal record of leadership and compassion.