Some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans are still struggling to rebuild eight years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the city, killing at least 1,833 people and causing $105 billion in damage.
“There are still more than 6,000 families who own homes they cannot afford to rebuild,” wrote Zack Rosenburg, CEO of the St. Bernard Project, in a column for the Times-Picayune.
Thursday will mark the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“St. Bernard Project has more than 130 families on our waiting list, and we get more than 15 requests a week — all from families who, pre-Katrina, owned homes,” Rosenburg wrote. “More than 65 percent of our clients suffered contractor fraud, and some are still living in gutted or partially built houses. All go about their days with one thought, constantly, in the back of their mind: I need to be in my home.”
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St. Bernard Parish, east of Orleans Parish, was ranked one of the fastest growing counties in the United Statse from 2007 to 2008. Katrina sent a 25-foot storm surge, toppling levees and sinking almost the entire parish. Water raised so suddenly that some reports said it took as little as 15 minutes.
Recovery has been riddled with dead ends and fraud.
“Our clients are hard working people, like Ms. Cynthia, who worked for the Sherriff's Office at the women's jail,” Rosenburg wrote. “When Katrina came, Ms. Cynthia rescued women who, without her help, would have drowned. Despite her best efforts, Ms. Cynthia is not home. She was under-compensated by Road Home, and she suffered contractor fraud twice.”
Low-income and minority groups might have suffered the most from the storm.
"If New Orleans is to substantially reverse decades of economic decline, high crime rates, and a shrinking city tax base, then greater educational attainment and economic progress for African-American men will be critical,” said a report from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Centre.
The Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans was completely submerged by Katrina. The area was populated mostly by minorities and low-income housing. Residents there cannot even get a grocery store to open in their neighborhood.
The report said there are 3,000 lots in the Eighth and Ninth Ward that have yet to be cleared.
"Right now nobody on those 3,000-plus properties is contributing," said Errol Williams, a New Orleans tax assessor. "It’s costing the city and state government to maintain them. Police got to go out there, run kids out of there, drug-users."
Rosenburg said the anniversary of the storm is good time to remind the country that Katrina-recovery is not over yet.
“On this eighth anniversary, there has been tremendous progress in New Orleans. For those of us who are home, it is a wonderful place to live," he wrote. "However, with the tornadoes in Joplin, Tuscaloosa and Moore, floods in Minot and now Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast, our country's attention is often focused elsewhere. In New Orleans, we ask that you help us finish strong and make sure that we can complete the job.”