Four years ago this week, the City of New Orleans was deep under the waters splashed ashore by a raging Hurricane Katrina. By the time the storm cleared, hundreds of men, women, children and their pets were dead. A formerly vibrant city on the Gulf Coast was left in ruins, depopulated by almost a third of its homeless citizens and property damage running at more than $100 billion.
But the damage didn’t stop there. A White House that until then had seemed invincible was left reeling and humbled from the exposure of its utter incompetence to a shocked nation, whose reputation for efficiency and compassion was by now in tatters. What’s more, the recovery efforts was not only disjointed, but also was thoroughly corrupt.
A lone voice that at least temporarily could be heard on radio by a grieving city that of Ray Nagin, the affable mayor who, though bearing a portion of the blame, was justly deemed the only public official still in touch with his suffering people and at least understood exactly the magnitude of tragedy that had befallen his beloved city.
On Friday (Aug. 28), New Orleans will mark the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The city is still laboring under the shadows of that tragedy, but residents are more optimistic about the future. After all, there are no hurricanes to speak of this year because of El Nino. The first named hurricane of the season, Bill, was downgraded over the weekend to a tropical storm even as it steered clear of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane experts see fewer storm and almost no threat of another sneak attack.
Mayor Nagin said on Monday (August 24) that due to new safety measures, the city would never see a natural disaster of that magnitude “ever in our lifetime.” “The hurricane protection system we have in the city of New Orleans is the best it’s ever been and it probably rivals anything that’s being built around the world,” he added.
In 2005, Katrina destroyed a significant portion of the city, leaving scores of people dead, injured, and homeless. Many observers blamed the magnitude of the storm, faulty levees, inadequate emergency readiness, and a weak federal response for the immense scale of the devastation across the Gulf region. The storm was the costliest natural disaster in history.
Nagin, who was reelected a year after the storm despite some criticism for a lack of preparation, said the levee’s performance during Hurricane Gustav last year made him confident they would hold during a stronger storm like Katrina. He credited funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the economic stimulus package offered by President Barack Obama for helping the city rebuild.
He believes the storm gave the New Orleans a three year head start on other cities when it comes to emergency preparedness as well as on rebuilding. The city was collecting government recovery money to rebuild after Katrina under a Congressional program to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Today, about 80 percent of New Orleans residents have returned to rebuild their lives, he said.