In Katrina’s Wake

New Orleans Under WaterWhat has two years and $114 billion in government largesse brought to the region affected by Hurricane Katrina?

  • 13,000 Mississippi families are still living in FEMA trailers, down from 48,000 a year ago. Governor Haley Barbour expects them to be all out of temporary housing by this time next year.
  • Better days are ahead” George Bush said as he spoke to a gathering in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. But grants are contentious, and money is being tied up in Congressional, Administrative and State battles. The President had plenty of words but not a lot to show for it. Those who heard the speech must have been wondering if the President was referring to New Orleans, or to Iraq, when he made that comment.
  • The Port of New Orleans and tourism, the two largest revenue-generation sources for the area, have almost completely recovered to pre-Katrina levels.
  • On the downside, New Orleans’ homicide rate of 70 per 100,000 is the highest in the country, and fully one-third of the population has not and cannot yet return.

This recovery has taken too long, not only because of Government bureaucracy and mismanagement but because it probably shouldn’t have occurred to the extent that it is occurring. There are a number of issues that will remain unresolved, with disastrous consequences, and I for one think that it is unquestionably foolish to re-create the city as it was:

  • New Orleans is already 8 feet below sea level and continues to sink another inch every three years. The Lower 9th Ward is 11 feet below sea level.
  • The levees have not and probably cannot be built to withstand a category 5 hurricane within either a reasonable time frame or a reasonable budget. (2006 estimates were $32 billion. Only $7.6 billion has been authorized with virtually none of it allocated, and completion estimates take the rebuilding phase out to 2015). It only takes one weak spot in the miles of levees to re-inundate New Orleans again.
  • No housing regulations have been established to force homeowners to elevate their homes above sea level.
  • An unintended consequence of the Old River Control Structure, which is the only thing holding the Mississippi River from completely diverting to its natural ocean course (the Atchafalaya River), is that Mississippi River sediment settles within the river bed, continuously raising the river’s elevation above and through New Orleans. Already a billion-dollar structure, the Old River Control Structure is costly and growing more difficult to maintain as the elevation differences between the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya increase.

The insurance companies who refuse to provide flood insurance to New Orleans residents are an indicator of how unwise we are to throw so much good money after bad. It was a dreadful decision to rebuild any part of The Big Easy that’s below sea level.

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