NEW ORLEANS — On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, anger over the stalled rebuilding was palpable throughout a city where the mourning for the dead and feeling of loss for flooded homes, schools, snow cone stands, old-time hairstylists and hardware stores doesn't seem to subside.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall south of New Orleans at 6:10 a.m. Aug. 29, 2005, as a strong Category 3 hurricane that flooded 80 percent of the city and killed more than 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.
On Wednesday, protesters planned to march from the obliterated Lower 9th Ward to Congo Square, a venerable spot where slaves were able to celebrate their culture. Accompanied by brass bands and wielding megaphones, they will again try to spread their message that the government has failed to help people return.
"People are angry and they want to send a message to politicians that they want them to do more and do it faster," said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, a Baptist pastor and community activist. "Nobody's going to be partying."
"It's an emotional time. You re-live what happened and you remember how scattered everyone is now. There are relationships now that are completely over," said Robert Smallwood, a New Orleans writer. "The city has been dying this slow death. In New Orleans, you can't escape it. It's bad news everyday."
Churches will hold memorial services, including one at the historic St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, and ring bells in honor of the victims. People throughout the city will hold their own private ceremonies to remember where they were when Katrina hit, and what they lost.
"Everyone who gives it any thought, and I can't imagine who hasn't, has to reflect on his or her own personal experience during that time, and also look at how far we've come," said Larry Lorenz, a journalism professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.
A candlelight vigil is scheduled in Jackson Square at dusk, right around the time the French Quarter may start getting tipsy with street parties and anniversary revelers, as happened last year.
The anniversary is an opportunity for the city to recapture media attention to tell the nation what's happened to New Orleans since Katrina. Reporters, television crews and photographers have, once again, flocked to the city.
The day has also attracted a passel of politicians — President Bush chief among them. He and Laura Bush arrived Tuesday night and dined with Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole cooking, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and musician Irvin Mayfield.
As on other visits, the president and his team arrived here armed with facts and figures to show how much the Bush administration has done to fulfill the promises the president made two-and-a-half weeks after the hurricane.
"We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," Bush said then from historic Jackson Square in New Orleans' French Quarter. "This great city will rise again."
In fact, there is some good news here. The city's population is rebounding, and a few neighborhoods thrive. New Orleans has recovered much of its economic base and sales tax revenues are approaching normal. The French Quarter survived Katrina, and the music and restaurant scenes are recovering.
But much of New Orleans still looks like a wasteland, with businesses shuttered and houses abandoned. Basic services like schools, libraries, public transportation and childcare are at half their original levels and only two-thirds of the region's licensed hospitals are open. Rental properties are in severely short supply, driving rents for those that are available way up. Crime is rampant and police operate out of trailers.
Many projects are hamstrung by the soaring costs of construction and insurance, while federal funding has been slow to flow to cities. Other economic indicators are down — such as population, employment and housing supplies.
Bush's Gulf Coast rebuilding chief, Don Powell, noted the federal government has committed a total of $114 billion to the region, $96 billion of which is already disbursed or available to local governments. Most of it has been for disaster relief, not long-term recovery. He implied it is local officials' fault, particularly in Louisiana where the pace has been slower, if money has not reached citizens.
Powell also said the president intends to ask for the approximately $5 billion federal share of the $7.6 billion more needed to strengthen New Orleans' levee system to withstand a 100-year storm and improve the area's drainage system. Though the levees are not yet ready for the next massive storm, they are slated to be strengthened by 2015.
But Powell said other areas — such as infrastructure repair and home rebuilding — are shared responsibilities with local officials or entirely the purview of state and local governments, suggesting that the federal government is absolved when those things don't happen.
I'm tired of these people protesting about the lack of progress... what's stopping them from rebuilding their own homes with their own money or insurance money? Oh, that's right... they don't have any money and they didn't BUY insurance, so now they have their hands out to the government. Well, beggars can't be choosers.
Maybe the real underlying reason behind delays in certain aspects of rebuilding is the realization that some portions of the New Orleans area just aren't worth rebuilding. Our politicians are dragging their feet, because the truth would be politically incorrect... especially right before the elections.
So much infrastructure has to be replaced and most of the structures have to be torn down in those low-lying areas, such as the Lower 9th Ward... areas that were originally swampland. The high ground close to the river - which includes downtown, the French Quarter, and the Garden District - never really got that much water during Katrina and is worth the investment. Of course, the highest priority is to develop a better storm protections system - it's worth it.
We should be spending the money on things that will provide an economic return for the city and state. This does not include brand-new low-income housing for the leeches. We build that for them and the area will become a run-down crap-hole again in no time... it's just not worth it!