At the approach of hurricane season, a long list of housing woes in the post-Katrina South

Monday, June 02, 2008

Almost three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pounded the Gulf Coast, New Orleans is a shell and its citizens remain displaced and impoverished. Documentarian June Cross joins The Takeaway to discuss the region as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's deadline to evacuate victims still living in temporary trailers passes.

Additional notes from guest June Cross:

There is good news in New Orleans:

Some neighborhoods have rebuilt. Most tourists would never know there was a flood -- the restaurants and clubs have reopened. The French Quarter and all of the undamaged uptown neighborhoods remain intact. Forty-eight per cent of those who have returned have moved into those areas. Volunteers who came to rebuild have stayed to settle, lending an energy the old city lacked. Many have moved outside of the city and into the suburbs. But for those in the working class and middle class areas of the city and for poorer renters, things remain tough, especially for those who lived east of the Quarter, on both sides of the breached Industrial Canal. The joie de vivre is still present, but in a different timbre.


Producer's Notes:

The unparalleled devastation that Hurricane's Rita and Katrina wreaked on our gulf coast in 2005 did much more than flatten the architectural landscape. It opened long-smoldering racial wounds, exposed the Southern class structure and focused a giant microscope on the fallibility of our government. In a situation so unwieldy — Columbia journalism professor and PBS FRONTLINE producer June Cross likens it to the rebuilding of Baghdad — it is easy to point the blame at federal mouthpieces who promise all but give nothing.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must have a public-relations version of shell shock. Their spokesmen and spokeswomen are in constant anticipation of an angry attack or snarky question, and, as I like to imagine, they flinch every time a New York area code shows up on caller ID. As they try their best to explain themselves to strangers on a daily basis, they are on the receiving end of a nation-wide condemnation. "You know, most of the people who work in FEMA in Louisiana are from Louisiana. Ninety percent of us are from the area," the FEMA spokesman I got to know said. "They lived in travel trailers too, they lost homes. I had a house 30 miles from New Orleans and I had 11 trees on my house. I worked a solid month with a chainsaw just to clear my yard."

His brief candor made me realize that while the post-Katrina infrastructure is indeed systemically fractured, it is comprised of good people who are trying to do their best in a bad situation. I don't know what the solution is, but I do know the frustration is being felt on all sides.

— Kent Depinto

Contributors:

Kent DePinto

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