by Jeff Crouere (BayouBuzz.com)
Yesterday’s report that FEMA is closing its long range planning office in New Orleans should not come as a surprise to anyone. FEMA neglected New Orleans before, during and after the storm. As the city continues to struggle post-Katrina, the agency that can provide the most assistance is leaving. FEMA is charged with helping New Orleans prepare a recovery blueprint to rebuild neighborhoods, schools and homes. Incredibly, in the midst of the most massive recovery undertaking in the history of this country, FEMA is abandoning a city that remains flat on its back.
Katrina knocked out most of the businesses, schools, hospitals and infrastructure in New Orleans. Eight months later, less than half of the population has returned, only a few schools and hospitals have opened and many New Orleans landmarks, such as famous restaurants and even the world renowned St. Charles Streetcar line are still not in operation. The floodwaters that sat in many sections of New Orleans for so long did incredible damage.
1,300 people died because the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal government agency, failed to build adequate levees around New Orleans. The levee problem was compounded by the poor response from FEMA. The vital aid that thousands of people needed was so delayed and inadequate that many people died unnecessarily. Walmart and other private groups and businesses were much more effective in getting assistance to people who needed help in New Orleans. Of course FEMA was overwhelmed, but so was everyone else. The fact that FEMA was besieged was no excuse for tardy and ineffective assistance for the stranded people of New Orleans.
Eight months later, the people of New Orleans are still stranded. FEMA provided the city with little help in the immediate aftermath of the storm, so it should be going overboard today to make up for the previous problems. Instead it is leaving its most crucial post and abandoning its most important mission, a decision that is not only unconscionable, it is immoral.
According to Aaron Walker of FEMA, “We can only do so much and then we look to the city to embrace and begin planning and managing. We have reached that point where the city needs to take that step forward. And once they begin planning, we can re-engage with them." FEMA is demanding that a broke city facing potential bankruptcy, which had to fire 3,000 employees in a cost cutting move, take over the planning process. Today, city government is a shell of its former self, with limited personnel and even more limited resources. Obviously, the Nagin administration should have done more to assist FEMA and work with them in the planning process. The problems with local government are too numerous to outline at this point. Nevertheless, FEMA should not abandon its post and relinquish its duty because of any problems on the local level. The agency needs to complete the assignment however long it takes.
Since Katrina, FEMA has often changed personnel in New Orleans and each time a new planning team came to town, the promises would change.. According to city officials, a former FEMA Director made a verbal commitment to fund the planning process. Unfortunately that Director is now long gone and so is the commitment. New Orleans, a unique and historic jewel in this homogenized country, should not be forgotten. The fact that FEMA is walking away from the most important mission in the agency’s history is reason enough for Congress to vote to eliminate the agency. At this point, FEMA does not deserve to exist any longer. In its place a new, independent agency should be formed immediately with direct access to the White House and staffed by caring, competent professionals. The City of New Orleans and the country has seen the dysfunctional incompetence and criminal neglect from FEMA for far too long.
Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 8:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and Noon till 2 p.m. weekdays on several Louisiana radio stations. For more information, visit his web site at www.ringsidepolitics.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.