New Orleans four years later.
Â By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Staff Writer
Four years after its devastation ravaged the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina has remained a symbol of nature’s fury, unbelievable tragedy and government response gone bad.
The numbers and impact are still astronomical. 1,836 dead with an additional 705 missing. $90 billion in damages in six states, primarily Louisiana and Mississippi. Images of the crowded Superdome, floating bodies and uprooted neighborhoods were seared into the public consciousness.
Four years later, remnants of the disaster can still be seen in the city and the recovery efforts have been mixed on a national and local level.
As far as government aid to the region, much fuss was made earlier this year when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal rejected some monies in the stimulus bill that directly affected unemployment and Medicaid benefits.
While he felt that the monies would burden the state down the road, he did accept $3.3 billion and some has been used to repair vital infrastructure in the state.
President Barack Obama has made the recovery of the Gulf Coast a priority since he was a U.S. Senator. He made several appearances prior to and during his campaign criticizing the government’s response and promising to do better if elected.
However according to Politifact.com, a website tracking all of the president’s campaign promises, he has so far followed through on one of the 17 made concerning Katrina. That was appointing an experienced disaster official to oversee the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The rest–such as strengthening the levees and restoring housing in the area–have yet to be fulfilled as they have taken a back seat to revitalizing the economy and the healthcare bill.
In the city of New Orleans, most of the festivals have returned and some parts of the business sector have returned. Next month, many will get ready to cheer the Saints football team in the Superdome, a different haven that people remember from 2005 when homeless residents crammed to find shelter and assistance.
But the prosperity of areas like the French Quarter can’t overshadow the fact that some neighborhoods have yet to recover. A study released this past July by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center showed that 31% of all residential addresses remain vacant or unoccupied–the highest percentage among major U.S. cities.
The city has no hospitals open to provide in-patient mental health care despite increases in the city’s suicide rate and cases of depression. Statewide, over 27,000 homeowners are still waiting to receive federal rebuilding assistance that they were approved for.
As health care remains the forefront issue in the nation, both Mississippi and Louisiana were ranked at the bottom two states in terms of overall healthcare by the United Health Foundation.
Despite the bleakness, there is still hope in the Gulf Coast.
Many young people between 18-30 are returning to attempt to find work. 16 schools have opened in New Orleans and on Tuesday, they celebrated the opening of their first public school since Katrina–the Langston Hughes Academy Charter School.
Jobs are slowly coming back in Louisiana where the unemployment rate (7.8% as of July) is significantly lower than the national unemployment rate of 9.7% and the state rate of over 10% from September-November 2005.
The opposite is true for Mississippi where the current rate (10.5%) is higher than it was during the same 2005 time period when it was over 8%.
People have come back to the region trying to rebuild their lives and while there is still much work to do from the nation’s worst natural disaster, their resiliency is what the ultimate story is four years later.Â