The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is approaching on Tuesday and with much of New Orleans still in ruins, many people are asking how so much of a major American metropolis could be abandoned for so long. A year after the costliest natural disaster in US history, vast stretches of the Gulf Coast are still largely vacant, and some are starting to wonder whether the destruction may be permanent.
As the Washington Post reported, tallies of electric bills and school enrollment figures show that less than half of New Orleans’s pre-storm population of 455,000 has returned. The population of adjacent St. Bernard Parish has shrunk from 65,000 to less than 20,000. In small towns along the Mississippi Coast from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi, fewer than 5 percent of destroyed homes are being rebuilt. The clean-up has been so slow that nearly a third of the hurricane trash in New Orleans has yet to be picked up, according to federal Gulf Coast Recovery Coordinator Donald E. Powell.
Again, the question: Why? The Black Activist Coalition on Katrina and the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund say that the astoundingly incompetent response is an example of “the monumental failure of the US government to protect and respect the lives of blacks and the poor” and “the direct result of the institutional dimensions of race, class, and gender oppression inherent in the US government…throughout its 230 year history.”
In response, these two groups, in alliance with a raft of local grassroots organizations, have launched a campaign to convene an International Tribunal on Katrina and the human rights abuses of the US government. This tribunal is expected to be held in New Orleans in early 2007. (A specific date has not been determined, but the committee is investigating March 30th and 31.)
One of this coalition’s main demands is for real transparency in the reconstruction process. “Citizens must know where all the monies are being spent and with whom they are being spent.” Another big one is the creation of public-works jobs for the displaced workers of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast at union wages “so that our population is no longer characterized by extreme poverty.” Click here or call 601-353-5566 for more info, to sign on as an endorser, and to contribute time, resources and funds.