One Year After Katrina, Uneven Progress Marks Efforts to Rebuild
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Doug Johnson. This week, our subject is the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm hit land three times in the final days of August of two thousand five. Its third landfall, on August twenty-ninth, was the one that caused the most damage.
Katrina was blamed for about one thousand eight hundred deaths along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Property damage estimated at around seventy-five thousand million dollars made it the most costly hurricane in American history.
In the year since Hurricane Katrina, people in the affected areas have heard many promises and seen some progress.
Congress and state governments have provided for thousands of millions of dollars in aid. Engineers are developing plans that they say will improve flood protection systems. And emergency officials say they are planning better ways to get people to safety.
But the progress has not been enough to satisfy many of the people who lived through the storm. They say they will believe the promises when they see the results.
The National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that as many as two million people had to leave their homes because of Katrina. Many found they no longer had a home or a job to return to. A year later, some are still trying to re-establish their lives.
Across the affected states, progress has been uneven.
Rebuilding has begun. But workers have yet to clear away many of the homes and other buildings wrecked by the storm.
Thousands of people now live in temporary trailer housing provided by the government. Many homeowners are still waiting for insurance payments or government help to rebuild.
Many people have left to make new lives in other places.
Today, perhaps half of New Orleans appears normal or near normal. But other areas of the city look as if Katrina struck yesterday. Almost half of the public schools are still closed.
Before Katrina, New Orleans had nine hospitals. Now only a few are open. Katrina was not the only problem. Hurricane Rita caused additional flooding in September.
About one thousand six hundred people from the state of Louisiana died as a result of Katrina. More than two hundred thirty were killed in Mississippi. Florida, Alabama and Georgia also had victims.
The remains of about fifty people are still unidentified in Louisiana. Some were found months after the storm.
During the past year, investigations examined government responses to Hurricane Katrina. Rescue operations and evacuations of communities were painfully disorganized. Many thousands of people went for days without receiving food, water or medical care.
Government officials blamed each other. And almost everyone blamed FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But, as one investigation put it, there was enough blame to share.
On June first, the Army Corps of Engineers accepted responsibility for faults in the New Orleans levees. These barriers were built to protect the city which sits below sea level.
The corps released a six-thousand-page report that described many problems with engineering and design of the flood protection system.
Several levees failed as a result of Katrina and Rita. Water rushed through and covered everything in its path.
Saltwater flowed into Lake Pontchartrain. For a while, even areas far inland looked like part of the Atlantic Ocean.
In some inland areas, people are still finding pieces of boats that Katrina blew in from the Gulf of Mexico.
The Army Corps of Engineers repaired the broken levees. Now the corps says it will begin a project to reduce the damage that future hurricanes might cause. The work includes adding floodgates and pump stations. The project is supposed to be finished by September of two thousand seven.
The current hurricane season began June first and will continue through November. Government weather scientists say this Atlantic season probably will not be as severe as the last one. But they still expect an above-normal number of storms.
The existing flood protection system is not designed for a Category Five hurricane -- the most severe. For a time Katrina had been at Category Five strength. But the storm lost some of that strength by the time it hit land southeast of New Orleans on August twenty-ninth.
Some parts of New Orleans were not heavily affected by Katrina. The famous entertainment area around Bourbon Street, for example, began to re-open not long after the storm.
But damage was severe and widespread in some other areas of the city, including some of its poorest communities.
Some people in New Orleans and other areas hit by Katrina had stayed in their homes after they were warned of the coming storm. They stayed for different reasons. Some had no transportation. Others had survived earlier hurricanes in their homes. They thought they could live through this one.
Some were lucky -- they were pulled from rooftops by helicopters or rescued by boats. Others were not -- their bodies were found in the weeks and months after Katrina.
In New Orleans today, the mostly black community that was the Lower Ninth Ward is almost empty. Film director Spike Lee has made a four-hour documentary on HBO television about the suffering of the Lower Ninth.
"When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" has received praise but also some criticism. Some people say it could give the wrong idea that mostly black people suffered in Katrina.
The United States Census Bureau released its most recent population estimates for the affected Gulf Coast areas in January. The report showed that the population of New Orleans was sixty-four percent smaller than before. Only about one hundred fifty-eight thousand people were left in the city.
Before the storms, two out of three people in New Orleans were black. Now the average citizen is more likely to be white, a little older and better off financially compared to the averages a year ago.
Before Katrina and Rita, thirty-six percent of the people in the New Orleans metropolitan area were black. That number dropped to twenty-one percent.
But Katrina increased the populations of cities like Houston, Texas, that received thousands of people needing shelter.
The American Psychological Association says many Katrina survivors suffer from depression. They are also at increased risk of drug and alcohol problems.
Many displaced families moved several times after the storm. The children may have attended two or three schools, or more. Not surprisingly, some have trouble keeping their minds on their schoolwork.
Katrina destroyed a large number of community medical centers that had been providing care to poor people. These centers were under pressure for resources long before the storm. Now the ones that remain do not have enough doctors and nurses. In Louisiana, community health care officials say seventy percent of local doctors and nurses have yet to return to damaged parts of the state.
In some Gulf Coast communities, strong economic influences have been the driving force to rebuild. Biloxi, Mississippi, is a good example. Before Katrina, eight to ten million people each year came to Biloxi to gamble. Katrina destroyed or heavily damaged the city's famous riverboat casinos. Fifteen thousand employees had no work.
Today Biloxi is recovering. Seven of its nine casinos are operating again or will soon. Visitors are returning. City official Vincent Creel says Biloxi has lived through hurricanes before. He tells us, "Biloxi will endure and prevail."
A young woman who lives and works in New Orleans shows the same spirit about the city that people call the Big Easy. In her words, "There will always be a New Orleans."
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. Transcripts and archives of our shows can be found at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Doug Johnson. We hope you can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.