Greenville In New Zealand we were asked, “How is New Orleans?” In California, whether Santa Rosa or Sonoma, the question arose, “How is New Orleans?” Thirteen years have passed since Hurricane Katrina swept through the city, and the question is still important, “How is New Orleans?” The answer: better than it was, but not as good as it needs to be.
That’s not a whine, just a statement of fact. Another new Mayor is now in charge, our first woman, an African-American again, and our first non-native born in a long, long time. There’s hope mixed with thirteen years of cynicism. Too many plans have been made without enough progress.
The big local television station reached out for ACORN’s affiliate, A Community Voice, so that they could dig deep into the lingering impacts felt by one of their leaders, Gwen Adams. They wanted to tell the story through a personal lens, but her organizational t-shirt cries out about how political this is. Gwen lives within a spit of the levee in the lower 9th ward. She was a union teacher in the New Orleans Public School System. She was fired like thousands of others, and despite the fact that she was a former Teacher-of-the-Year in Orleans Parish, she was never offered a return to work. She was also unwilling to go to work at lower pay, forfeited retirement and other benefits, and no job security or protection for a charter operator. She is now a sometimes substitute teacher. She is a great ACORN and ACV leader. These are the facts.
The facts are also being reckoned with in Puerto Rico almost a year after the island was slammed by Hurricane Maria. The governor there actually apologized, which is a refreshing surprise. He also announced that the death total is now estimated at near 3000 people compared to the earlier estimates that were hardly one-hundred. In the same report, the news story mentioned that the death total from Katrina is still not known absolutely. The governor noted that they had no disaster plan that assumed no power, no highway access, and no communication. George Washington University in the District of Columbia has been doing a study for them, but it is hard to believe there will be any surprises.
A spokesperson for the Milken Institute argued that the lesson of Puerto Rico is “focus as much as possible on lower-income areas, on people who are older, who are more vulnerable.” A survey from Kaiser Health Foundation and others in Texas in the wake of Harvey found that the same populations were still suffering there. We all thought that was also the lesson learned from Katrina thirteen years ago.
When are we going to be willing to really act on the lessons we keep being taught after disasters? No one seems to know – or act on – the lessons we keep being forced to learn at the price of suffering and death.