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We Are Not Okay

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(This is a guest post from Scout Prime of First Draft.  Scout has been following the situation in New Orleans and all over the Gulf Coast closely since last year’s hurricane Katrina.  (Even though Scout doesn’t live anywhere near NOLA, she understands that when some of our fellow citizens are in trouble, we ought to all pitch in to help.)  Since it is already hurricane season again, I thought an update on how our fellow Americans were doing was needed…and the news is not good. — RH) 

That is their Flag of Distress designed to tell you that despite what you may have heard or assumed it is not OK down there. In fact life in New Orleans is grim.  For over 9 months residents have gone through what I would term, The Long Wait.

They have waited for FEMA maps that would determine how they must rebuild their homes. They have waited for insurance checks and basic services like water, electricity, operating stoplights, mail, clearance of debris, collection of bodies and garbage pick-up to name just a few. They have waited for the politicians to hammer out federal funding for a housing program that would allow them to rebuild.

They have waited for Levees and the Army Corps of Engineers to admit responsibility for the flood that destroyed their city. They have waited for their fellow Americans to offer moral support and hope rather than blame and apathy. In a few areas the wait appears over. FEMA did finally release flood map advisories, the Corps of Engineers admitted their terrible mistake and just recently it appears Louisiana will receive federal funding for the Road Home housing plan and levee repair, though those repairs are deemed woefully inadequate.

In most other respects they still wait and now comes The Hard Reality.

What is truly difficult to convey about New Orleans is the scope of the destruction, the loss of infrastructure and the effects of such destruction and loss. Whole areas of the city lie in desolate ruin. The lower 9th Ward was the hardest hit. However go to Gentilly, Lakeview, New Orleans East, St. Bernard Parish and these areas are devastated too. People of all races and income levels have had their lives ruined by the man made disaster that was Katrina. The rebuilding of those lives has been so painfully slow to nonexistent that residents feel they have been abandoned by America and would want all to know…”We Are Not OK.”

80% of the city flooded because of the failure of the federal levee system. This is a very important point so I’ll say it again this way….It was not Hurricane Katrina that destroyed NOLA, it was the "catastrophic failure" of the Federal levee system which caused a flood that left the city devastated. “Researchers now say as many as 30 breaches in the system accounted for 84 percent of the metro area flooding.” The Army Corps of Engineers has finally admitted responsibility for design failures which caused the system to fail. In fact it was a “system in name only.”

To date 1577 people from Louisiana died due to Katrina. (Bodies are still being found) 75% of the casualties were elderly. ”Poor, elderly and disabled people were the most likely to be living in the lowest elevations behind levees, the least likely to be able to evacuate without assistance and most likely to die.”

Property damage and the loss of infrastructure was staggering. It can be still be seen and felt to this day. In fact people who go to New Orleans and venture out in any direction from the relatively undamaged downtown area, find a scene that leaves them shaken and outraged as it looks as though it all happened yesterday. And this is what approximately 220,000 New Orleanians live with each day.

Picture each and every facet of your daily life and then imagine it as either damaged or destroyed. Grocery stores, schools, fast food restaurants, strip malls, parks, coffee shops, churches, hospitals, clinics, sewers, courts. The list goes on and on. Imagine areas without stoplights and still some without electricity. Fires are fought from the air with helicopters as it is difficult to get water pressure for hoses on the ground. Garbage pickup is spotty. Debris is everywhere. Imagine living in a small trailer in front of your now destroyed home and you are the only living person for a block in what is a ghostly wasteland. Imagine on your drive to work each day, you pass a certain house, only to find out in your evening paper that another body was discovered in that house you’ve “been driving past" each day.

Rebuilding has been in fits and starts, if at all. Mainly it has consisted of individuals working on their own homes such as gutting them down to the 2×4’s. Then they have waited…..for a FEMA trailer, for insurance checks, for a roofer, for federal funding to reach them, for neighbors to return, for levee protection, for the coming hurricane season, for what will happen next in the hard felt absence of A Plan. The uncertainty is palpable. Fear, anxiety and depression are growing as people face The Hard Reality of grieving the loss of what their city was and the question of what will now become of them and the city they have loved. Should they stay or go? Are the levees safe enough? There is acceptance that the city will not be restored exactly as it once was, but what will it look like in the future? No one really knows.

Crisis abound…..the levees, an acute shortage of workers as there is an acute shortage of housing, budget cuts for police in the face of rising crime, a judicial system that collapsed and just now is coming back to life, 105 of 122 public schools remain closed. There isn’t enough space to detail the devastation to all of the infrastructure so I will describe what is happening in just one area to hopefully illustrate the severity of life in the the city at present.

Health Care
The status of the health care system in New Orleans is desperate as there is a severe shortage of health care workers, clinics, hospitals, services and funding. Charity and University hospitals remain closed. Hospitals in areas surrounding New Orleans are overwhelmed. Ambulances can line up for hours waiting to bring patients in for treatment. Hospitals are bleeding money each month “because they have to pay more for temporary personnel and care for uninsured people who otherwise would have gone to Charity Hospital.” Hospital inpatient stays have become longer as there is no long term outpatient care or home care in New Orleans at present.

There is a severe shortage of all health care workers, clinics and hospital beds. For example New Orleans City Business reports….

New Orleans had 5,400 physicians before the hurricane. The area has only 1,400 now, including 500 private practice physicians, according to the Louisiana State Medical Society. The number of primary care doctors has fallen 77 percent from 617 to 140. Dentists have decreased 70 percent from 259 to 77, and psychiatrists have dropped 89 percent from 196 to 22, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Hospitals are unable to expand services as they are unable to attract health care workers to New Orleans. There is a general shortage of hospital beds. At present there are no public psychiatric beds in Orleans and hospital ER’s are experiencing the strain of people presenting with psychiatric problems. The only facility for inpatient psych care of children/adolescents will reopen June 12 with just half the beds it had pre-Katrina…15.

Yet the need for mental health care is growing. One study estimated 100,000 children of Katrina will develop PTSD and 27% of children first screened at LSU Health Services displayed PTSD symptoms. Also the recently released Louisiana Survey found that among adults 70% in Orleans and 63% in suburban Orleans parishes "said they had felt depressed because of the storms." One St. Bernard Parish doctor has had to prescribe antidepressants for up to 35% of his patients. Hospital administrators are sounding the alarm that the health care situation is desperate and places the city’s growth at risk. They are asking the state for $120 million to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care which has risen by 86%. They hold no illusions that the one time appropriation will solve the problem however. As one administrator said,“People can persevere if there’s hope…..Right now we can’t paint that picture.”

HOPE.
Christy asked me to address the question of “What can you do to help from where you are?”

My answer is two fold. We must reach out to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to give them hope in the form of moral support and tangible progress in rebuilding.

The latter, first. Call your Congressional reps. They need to hear that Americans are not satisfied with what is being done for the Gulf Coast. They need to hear there should be leadership, vision and A Plan for rebuilding the Gulf Coast. They need to hear you support building Category 5 levees in New Orleans and restoring the Louisiana wetlands that were once a protective barrier to hurricane storm surges. Demand better congressional oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers. Go to levees.org and send this e-letter to your reps. Get involved in the ’06 election. Ask candidates what they will do for the Gulf Coast. We need to elect representatives who are committed to providing leadership and resources for rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

Now as to hope and moral support. The people of New Orleans and indeed the Gulf Coast feel abandoned. They need to hear America has not forgotten them. A new national discussion must occur. Not one of Blame but one of Justice. We must remember….

— A Flood destroyed New Orleans that was caused by years of neglect of Federal levees and mistakes made by the Army Corps of Engineers.

–The wetlands that once offered protection to New Orleans and Louisiana are being destroyed at an alarming rate for the sake of Mississippi River commerce and off shore drilling that you and I have benefited from many times over in lower prices for goods, food and gasoline. Unfortunately it cost Louisianans their lives, homes and communities.

–The flooded homes are those of every race and income. The flood did not discriminate. All are left to suffer now. It was not their fault and they do not deserve to be abandoned now. They are Americans and it is their turn.

One day your children and grandchildren will learn this chapter of our history. Will it be known to them as a chapter of American Shame or one of Justice, Sacrifice, Responsibility and Duty to our citizens? It’s not too late to write our history.

POSTSCRIPT:

I am not a NOLA blogger though I blog a lot about NOLA. I would urge you to visit and hopefully bookmark some NOLA bloggers. I’ve tried to highlight a few in this post but here are some links. So go check out their work and tell them you care. And check out the links in their sidebars for all the other good bloggers from NOLA.

Your Right Hand Thief 2Millionth Web Log Ashley Morris:The Blog Adrastos Suspect Device Blog Katrina We Are Not OK Katrina b.rox World Class New Orleans Moldy City Wet Bank Guide Gentilly Girl Library Chronicles da po’ blog People Get Ready Humid City v2.3 After the Levees

PS — Christy here again.  I found this information at Democrats.org, and wanted to pass it along to everyone.  The New Orleans library system is looking for book donations:

The New Orleans Public Library is asking for any and all hardcover and paperback books to restock the shelves after Katrina.

The books can be sent to:

Rica A. Trigs, Public Relations, New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112-2007

I’ve also heard that the post office will offer a discounted rate to ship items to this address.

Just another little thing you can do to help the folks in NOLA get back to life.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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