As Hurricane Irene impacts the West Coast of America, I can’t help but think of New Orleans. It is now the six years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans as other places along the Mississippi.
I have visited New Orleans four times since then and each time I’ve returned to England people have always ask me to the same questions. How is New Orleans now? Has it recovered yet?
During my first visit back in November 2007 I spent most of my time in the Tourist area of the French Quarters – one of the least affected areas. If not for a brief visit to the 9th Ward which was one of the worst affected areas, I would have left thinking that New Orleans was well on the way to recovery. In the 9th Ward however, I saw damaged homes, boarded up homes and overgrown patches of grass in places where there used to be homes – with a few reconstructed homes. I saw a school that had been damaged and was now relocated to another area leaving me wondering what would happen to the education of the children that used to go to that school. I saw the levy that had been breached and was amazed that this was what was to protect a city from major floods.
All in all, I came to a clear realisation that there was so much that needs to be done, so many lives disrupted if not completed devastated. I cried feeling hopeless, not knowing what to do, but knowing that I had to do something.
In my subsequent visits between 2008 and 2011, I went on bus tours, which show the damage, how it came about and the gradual recovery. I spent time speaking to people from different backgrounds about the recovery. I listened to local musicians speak about what has helped and what has got in the way of the recovery and in 2011 I even did a little bit of rebuilding work myself. (In between I’ve also listened to the news, to podcast and read books) On each visit, I left with mixed feelings – happy to see progress in some areas, but sad to see that some areas looked very much like I left them safe for the redevelopment of a few houses here and there; and the major redevelopment work of organisations such as Habitat for Humanity and Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Housing Initiative.
Although the Hurricane Katrina television coverage focused on the poorer neighbourhoods, other areas were damaged as well, though not typical as bad. The poorer neighbourhoods are typically at lower levels and as a result they are more susceptible to flooding.
At the same time recovery in the poorer neighbourhoods is unsurprisingly much slower. Look at it this way, if you come from a more affluent background – referred to in England as middle class, but in the States as working class – the following will likely apply in case of a disaster:
- You are likely to have proper insurance cover on your home
- You are likely to be able to argue your case or get a friend with the knowledge and the background to advise your or do so on your behalf if your insurance claim is disputed
- You are likely to be able to fill out all the paperwork required for compensation from Government and provide the supporting documentation for proof of ownership of your home
- You are likely to have some savings that you can use to rebuild and even if not you are likely to be able to go to a bank and obtain a loan
- You are likely to have friends and/or family outside of the area who can provide you with financial support or support of some other kind.
I could go on, but the ultimate point is that you are likely to have a support structure in place to enable your recovery. If on the other hand you come from a poorer background, a lot of these things may not be in place for you:
- You may not have insurance cover or at least not the right type and even if you do – if your claim is disputed you’re less likely to be able to argue your case; you’re also less likely to know someone who can do so on your behalf.
- There is strong possibility that you inherited your home through generations of family members and that you do not have the full paperwork to proof ownership
- There is a strong possibility that you are of the demographic classified as working poor i.e. you work possibly even two jobs, but your income barely covers your living costs, talk less of providing you with funds to save.
- You might not even have a bank account talk less of an overdraft facility and there is no way in which a bank will give you a loan.
- Most of your friends and family members live in the same area as you and are facing the same circumstances. They are therefore in no position to support you.
As a result my answer to the question about New Orleans recovery is yes New Orleans is recovering and has in fact recovered in some areas, but there are other places in which the evidence indicates that the recovery is going to take a very, very long time.
Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated