Rebuilding New Orleans Is Slow Going

Two Years After Katrina
Two years after Hurricane Katrina much of New Orleans is not rebuilt.
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath caused an estimated $150 billion in Gulf-wide damage and turned New Orleans into one giant disaster zone.

Frustrated by the slow pace of recovery, some people decided to take matters into their own hands. Women of the Storm, an organization that is 600 members strong, has served as tour guides for 187 members of Congress.

"No one can understand the magnitude of the devastation or the challenges unless they see it block by block, mile by mile," says member Anne Milling.

CBS News anchor and managing editor Katie Couric found the city has less than two-thirds the population it once did. The now-infamous Lower Ninth Ward, horribly flooded when the levees burst, is still a vision of devastation. New Orleans East, where few still venture, is no better.

Couric visited an apartment complex in New Orleans East that had 32 apartments before Katrina hit. Little has happened there since then. All that's left is the shell of a building - bricks, mortar and two-by-fours.

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"We are in Lakeview now, right now the 17th Street canal breach," explains Milling. It's still a mess.

CBS News Poll: Little Progress Seen Since Katrina
Couric found there are as many as 120,000 buildings that still need demolition, but the federal program to handle it will end in October.

Many neighborhoods are just starting to come back.

"So when will this be back in business?" Couric asked about a shopping mall.

"We have no idea," Milling said. "But in order for these shops to open, they need people. And in order for the people to come back, they need homes and houses. And that hasn't happened."

After the hurricane, President Bush promised to rebuild.

"We will do whatever it takes," he said.

But has the president kept that promise?

  • $116 billion in recovery dollars have been earmarked for the Gulf region, almost $60 billion of it to Louisiana alone.

  • Nearly $20 billion was spent in the state on disaster relief. Another $13.5 billion was paid in flood insurance.
  • Finally, $25.5 billion was allocated for rebuilding.
  • Yet, of the $116 billion promised, only $6.78 billion has actually been spent on rebuilding New Orleans."The state has tried so hard to prevent even the appearance of any graft or corruption, that they've just put layer upon layer on the individual to go through these hoops," Milling says. The result? The money never gets to the people who need it, she says.

    Less than half of the city's public schools have reopened. Many are worried about a health care system that is still in critical condition, as well as skyrocketing crime. As for those famous levees: They are still being rebuilt at an expected cost of $15 billion, complete with maps predicting future flood danger.

    Donald Powell, the federal czar appointed by President Bush to oversee the recovery, concedes the project won't be completed until 2011 - four hurricane seasons away.

    "These maps will show at what level of risk they are after these levee systems have been improved. And that's powerful. Information is powerful," Powell said.

    "If I looked at those maps, I may not want to come back until 2011," said Couric.

    "That's a decision you would have to make," he said.

    Powell blames state and local officials for not keeping the money flowing. Those officials blame the federal government. But even the most enthusiastic boosters admit that if there is a comeback, it will take years.

    "It's not going to be the same," Milling said, "but it is going to come back."

    The rebuilding is being seen by many people as an opportunity to fix a number of problems in public housing, education and health care that existed before Katrina.

    Wednesday, in part two of our series, a look into how the federal government is spending tens of millions of dollars to make New Orleans safe, but crime is worse than ever.