New Orleans: Fragile ….Handle with Care

From Scout:

George Bush has stressed the role of volunteers in rebuilding New Orleans. He visited volunteers at various rebuilding sites in New Orleans on April 27 as part of promoting National Volunteer Week. At the time he stated, “If you are interested in helping the victims of Katrina, interested in helping them get back on their feet, come on down here.”

Don’t pack your bags though. FEMA has announced that on June 1 it will be closing the last 4 camps that house and feed volunteers coming to Louisiana to aid in recovery. The move will likely shut down the volunteer work Bush was promoting.

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From Scout:

From the Times Picayune:

FEMA will continue to fund housing assistance programs and public rebuilding projects, but local officials and charities say closing the camps now threatens the region’s recovery by taking away the only conveniences the depressed areas can offer volunteers: a place to stay and decent meals. “Without volunteers, we’re out of business,” said Col. David Dysart, a Marine reservist in charge of the recovery project in St. Bernard Parish, where 67,000 people live.

Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle said, “We’ll have to find alternate housing for any volunteers to come down now — and that will be a difficult task, because we don’t have anything here.”


Until FEMA first announced its intention to shut down the last four camps, they were usually full, according to Michael Hayes, Habitat’s special projects coordinator.


Dysart said St. Bernard, the hardest-hit parish in the region, with all of its 40,000 structures seriously damaged or destroyed, has no way to house or feed volunteers.

“In St. Bernard, we have no infrastructure. Nothing,” Dysart said. “All of our churches are devastated. We have no hospitals. No supermarkets. The schools are destroyed.”

Camp Premier is about all there is in St. Bernard, except for a dollar store, a Home Depot and a few bars.

“We literally have nowhere for volunteers to go,” Dysart said.

The fact that the camps were originally to be closed April 10 but then extended to June 1 makes Bush’s call for volunteers to come to New Orleans at best questionable and at worst quite disingenuous. Beyond that, was volunteerism ever a practical plan for rebuilding the Gulf Coast anyway? I applaud the work done by volunteers and I know the people of New Orleans are grateful for their contribution. However given the enormity of the destruction and thus the task at hand wouldn’t it have been better to have a president stand in New Orleans wielding a Marshall Plan for reconstruction rather than a volunteer’s hammer? Just what IS the Plan for rebuilding?

I’ve asked that for months and at the end of February I went to New Orleans seeking answers. It took all of 3 hours to realize that if I was looking for answers, New Orleans was the last place to be. At that time, the sheer uncertainty of living there was overwhelming. Three months later it is no better.

Congress still hasn’t approved the $4.2 billion in housing recovery funds “leaving Louisiana’s $4.6 billion plan, called “The Road Home,” in limbo.” Then there was the independent study that blasted design flaws in the levee system which lead to the destruction in the first place. Though repairs are being made “the scientists said they fear that it remains a dangerous system in need of a complete overhaul.” That came as researchers predicted New Orleans to be the “city most likely to be struck by hurricane force winds during the 2006 storm season” (30% chance). Is it any wonder that when The Louisiana Survey (p. 39) recently asked respondents if they felt depressed because of what has happened in the areas affected by the hurricanes that 77% of respondents in Orleans and 63% in suburban Orleans said YES?

Perhaps they should ask about anxiety the next time around. Read Chris Rose’s latest column….

I was riding in the back of a cab recently through a wasted neighborhood full of damaged and abandoned houses, pick a neighborhood, any neighborhood. The driver and I were talking about the future, the immediate future. Specifically, we were talking about June 1. You don’t need me to tell you what day that is. Taking the pulse of the town and its citizenry, the driver told me: “I’ve never seen or felt anything like this. I’ll tell you, brother: I’m scared. I’m real scared.”

The uncertainty, the depression, the rage over mistakes made, the disgust that bodies are still being found and the fear for the coming hurricane season is all taking a toll. New Orleanians are proud, tough and they love their city but can they hang on indefinitely? Right now I would put a big “Fragile: Handle with Care” sticker on New Orleans. But the warning isn’t for them, it is for the rest of us. Where’s the Care? Where’s the Solidarity? Where’s the damn Plan?