Notebook: Katrina's Legacy

Sections of the new flood gates are lowered in the London Ave. Canal during a demonstration in New Orleans Sat. Aug. 26, 2006. The gates once in place will reduce the strain on the levee walls from surges of water from Lake Pontchartrain driven into the canal by storms. The levees along the canal failed during Hurricane Katrina and contributed to the flooding of New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber) AP Photo

I reached a point today early this afternoon where I felt like either I wanted to take a nap or have a drink. It's a God awful mess in New Orleans and being back here for the umpteenth time -- and talking to so many people who are so tired and disgusted -- it's all starting to rub off on me, I guess.

You need to know that it doesn't really matter which neighborhood you're in. If your house was filled with water, you have a big expensive mess on your hands. State recovery money is starting to flow but it's ridiculously difficult to get anything done. There are not enough contractors and plumbers and electricians to work on the tens of thousands of damaged houses that need work.

Everyone who comes down here for the first time has the same reaction: "I didn't know it was this bad. It looked bad on TV but, my God, it's so much worse." Well, it's still like that.

The streets are clean and the power is back on, but honestly, all it does is make it easier to get around and see how bad everything still is. The streets are filled with pickup trucks, there are a lot of people down here working really hard but they are barely scratching the surface.

The city's population is half of what it was and if the city is ever to come back, the people need to come back. I keep wondering: What I would do? A friend of mine down here told me some of his middle class friends just can't take it any more -- the red tape, the delays, the ineptitude. They're angry at the Army Corp of Engineers for leaving the levees in such bad shape.

Now that the levees are pretty much rebuilt, they would kind of like to see a hurricane come through just to see if the levees would hold up. No joke, they're thinking, "If the levees won't hold, why should I rebuild?"

I get their point. Last week we were in Mississippi and in St. Bernard Parish, southeast of New Orleans. Folks are pretty tired down there, too. We met an old lady in a FEMA trailer park who said other than the drugs and crime, she appreciated having a roof over her head.

Down in Chalmette, La., we stood with a woman who cried and couldn't stop -- standing in what was left the house she and her husband had retired in a little more than a year ago. The home was one of 1,700 that got socked by the oil that came out of the ruptured tank in the Murphy Oil refinery. If you pick up a fist full of the dirt from the neighborhood, you can still smell the oil.

I asked a lot of people if they had a message for the rest of America on this one year anniversary of the storm. It was simple: "Don't forget us."
  • Michael Wuebben

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