New Orleans Devastation Continues

Driving into New Orleans is like driving into a war zone, or more aptly, a city after it has been through a war and is now deserted. The city remains largely emptied of people but piled with debris.

Large sections of the city remain without electricity three months after Katrina struck. While the French Quarter is lit up and open for business, the predominantly working class and black neighborhoods of the 7th, 8th and 9th wards, which adjoin the French Quarter to the North and East respectively, remain dark and piled with mud, moldy furniture, drywall, and other assorted debris.

Much of this prime real estate is the target for demolition, displacement of the community, and construction of profitable casinos and other tourist attractions.

In contrast, the Lakeview neighborhood which sits on Lake Pontchartrain and along the largest levy break, suffered some of the worst destruction in the city, with water lines reaching up over roofs; and yet some of the largest homes in this area are up and running. The people with money in New Orleans are able to hire private contractors to gut their homes, re-insulate and drywall, set up generators and move back in. This is, for obvious reasons, not an option for the majority of the city’s residents.

A community organization called “The Common Ground Collective” based in the 8th and 9th Wards, as well as the Algiers neighborhood has been working in their community to rebuild.

For the holiday week, Common Ground launched its “Road Trip for Relief,” which brought over three hundred community activists and volunteers from around the country to start rebuilding one house at a time.

Common Ground has also set up distribution centers for food, clothing, and cleaning supplies as well as organizing against landlord and government evictions. Their motto is “Solidarity, Not Charity,” a slogan that may accurately describes the city’s true needs.

People unable to afford the high costs of private contractors and unable to get their insurance companies to pay-up, have turned to others in their community to work together to rebuild.

The backdrop to this grass roots show of solidarity is the response, or lack thereof, from the government and national charities. FEMA seems to be absent from the most devastated areas in the city, and the only indication of their presence are small notices attached to people’s houses reading: “we received your request for assistance but when we came by to do a damage assessment, we were unable to enter since you were not at home.”

The relief efforts of the Red Cross seem to be equally inadequate. Their focus includes standing on corners, mostly near the French Quarter, handing out bottles of water, Chili dogs, mops, brooms and buckets.

Most of the working class sections of New Orleans remain without electricity or running water, yet despite all of this FEMA has announced that as of Dec. 13th it will cease to cover the expenses of hurricane victims now housed in hotels. In short this means residents from the 9th ward and other poor sections of the city are going to be totally abandoned by the federal government.

Seizing on the opportunity to cash in on skyrocketing housing demands, landlords city wide are evicting their tenants and subsequently inflating the cost of rent to double or triple its former rate.

What’s more, city authorities have refused to re-open public housing projects, and seem postured to make their closure permanent. At the Iberville projects this scheme is already in motion as steel shutters now block all the windows and doors.

In response to problems of poverty, N.O.H.E.A.T. organized community forums and called for a march through the Iberville project on Saturday Dec 3rd to demand that public housing be re-opened, and that evictions be discontinued. This, in conjunction with the efforts of Common Ground, are going a small way in reclaiming the gulf coast for the people that live there