Making The Unfathomable Unforgettable

Women of the Storm CBS/The Early Show

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, a subdued Mardi Gras is showing America that New Orleans still has a pulse.

And CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports that one group of women is committed to making sure the Crescent City isn't forgotten by Congress, or anyone else.

"Women of the Storm" was started by Anne Milling, who told Pitts she "just had this idea that, once someone saw the devastation, especially our elected officials, then perhaps they would change their feelings."

Milling didn't lose her home, but she wants her city back.

In less than three weeks last month, Milling rounded up 130 Louisiana women, some of whom did lose their homes.

They stormed the nation's capital carrying blue tarp umbrellas, a not-so-subtle reminder of what many of their neighbors were using for rooftops back home: blue tarps.

At a January 30 news conference in Washington, Milling pointed out to reporters that, "Eighty-seven percent of the House of Representatives and 70 percent of our Senate have not found time to visit the site of the largest national catastrophe in the history of the United States of America."

"It was important for all of us," Women of the Storm member Madeline Doucet West said to Pitts, "that our Congress actually see and understand, particularly when they're making decisions about this area."

Fellow "Women" member Nancy Marsiglia told him, "It was something they saw on TV. We put a face on New Orleans."

Like Louisiana gumbo, Pitts says, the"Women" offer a spicy mix of Southern hospitality with a kick.

Says "Women" founder Milling, "One thing we do well is that we nag."

And, Pitts points out, it's paying off.

This past weekend, the group led a helicopter tour of the devastation.

Among those on board, Rep. Scott Garrett (R, N.J.) and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R, Ga.).

They admitted their first visit to post-Katrina New Orleans was an eye-opener.

The two congressmen represent a beginning, Pitts says, and they credit "Women of the Storm" with persuading a bipartisan group of 100 members of Congress visit next month.

"When you add a personal touch to it," Garrett says, "as Women of the Storm have done, then you're able to pull both sides together, and I think that's when you get things done."

"You've gotta come down and witness it yourself to see the amount of devastation that's down here," Westmoreland added.

Ironically, notes Pitts, Garrett and Westmoreland voted against a bill that approved nearly $52 billion in federal hurricane aid last September.

To this day, they're wary of throwing money into undeserving hands.

"Our feeling," Milling says, "is that you, the federal government, set the bar however you want to do it, set the standards as high as you want in terms of the allocation of the dollars … and we'll comply."

The women say they remain optimistic.

"We know our own value in our own hearts," Marsiglia says. "We still have 30 percent of nation's oil and gas coming through Louisiana. We have 40 percent of nation's seafood. … We know how important we are, so we know we have to rebuild."

"If we shut down," Milling stresses, "let me tell you that oil and gasoline prices will just shoot through the roof."

Will the New Orleans they love ever return?

"In a different form," Milling responds. "But I do think the core is there, the spirit is there, the soul is there. I believe that. But it will be altered slightly."

The next hurricane season is only 99 days away, Pitts says, so the urgency of repair efforts at the breached levees is increasing.
  • Brian Dakss

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