The tragedy for those who could not or would not evacuate New Orleans under threat of Category 5 Hurricane Katrina was that prompt assistance by local and Federal agencies was not prompt. One would think that public agencies know that people need food and water, and in today’s urban environments, food and water are perishable products highly dependent on the availability of electricity. When big storms hit, even smaller than Category 5 hurricanes, electricity goes out, and if not restored quickly, people began to suffer and die without water and to suffer without food. People in hospitals die without food and water and electricity, and even doctors and nurses can weaken and sicken and even die under such circumstances. Thus, the incomprehensible tragedy of the poor planning and execution of organized relief in conjunction with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the unique New Orleans area.
But the trauma will expand and expand immensely even as the residents of New Orleans are finally stabilized and removed from the city. All the people who DID evacuate New Orleans will not be able to return to their homes for months at the earliest. These people will not be able to return to their homes or their jobs. They will need housing. Many will not have savings or income for extended periods of time while away from their home cities. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans alone, and many, many additional thousands and tens of thousands of newly homeless people across the entire Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida.
Families have been separated. People with no savings are now totally without their basic survival possessions at home, including clothing. Many jobs will possibly never return. Many people may never return to New Orleans because they will be forced by circumstances to find places to live and work in their Diaspora.
This is the sort of situation in which the Red Cross and FEMA are trained to produce results, but never has this been required on such a massive scale. Possibly over a million people will need accommodations for many months. They will need to eat and clothe themselves and they will need to send their children to school and to medical care.
These are not life or death issues, but issues of quality of life and severe inconvenience. Cities that had prior problems with housing homeless and dealing with poverty have a greatly expanded burden, at a time when Federal programs have been cut and the safety net is already severely weakened. The President no doubt will try to proceed with planned tax cuts for the wealthy and will insist on no new taxes, no matter how severe the burden to future generations.
One possible solution that makes too much sense to be implemented — restore the old citizen conservation corps that helped rebuilt America after the Great Depression. Massive public works projects to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by hiring large numbers of human labor of the skilled and the unskilled variety could put people to work on a massive scale and give them incomes. Old fashioned labor at $15.00 per hour to clean up and rebuild the cities with human labor instead of bulldozers and backhoes. Jobs programs to teach construction skills and other needed skills could facilitate economic growth in the context of civic pride by those allowed to rebuild their own cities.
One thing is for sure. Long after New Orleans is de-watered the need for public assistance for New Orleans residents will be acute. Long after the cameras of CNN have moved away from Biloxi and Kenner the human needs will be profound on a massive scale usually seen only in wartime or severe natural disasters. Other natural disasters, including hurricanes may hit the same region before this one is resolved. More suffering is sure to come, but this situation could be handled in a way as to maximize public involvement in the healing process.