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Recovery and Rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina


With most of the city of New Orleans now evacuated and the survivors of Hurricane Katrina relocated to Houston and other cities, the main question for survivors and officials is what to do now.

Speaking with host Rick Pantaleo of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, the director of the Louisiana State University’s Cooperative Extension Service said officials are hoping that most of the evacuees will return and New Orleans and all the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina can be rebuilt. According to Paul Coreil, New Orleans’ unique culture needs to be preserved. Mr. Coreil said New Orleans – like America’s other inner cities – has many poor people, but rich and poor alike lost their homes in the flood after the levees failed.

He believes what is most obvious is the need for “better planning all around.” For example, a solid plan for getting people out who don’t have cars, establishing suitable shelters that are immediately available to evacuees, and better protecting Louisiana’s low-lying coastline from future disasters. Most important, Paul Coreil said, is “having the political will to plan for the future.” And that includes tougher standards for building homes and constructing better levees that can withstand a level-5 hurricane, such as Katrina.

Mr. Coreil’s colleague, Becky White, family life specialist at Louisiana State University’s Agriculture Center, said that Americans need to “rally” around those who have been displaced from their homes. She said those who offer care need to listen and “let them express what they are feeling,” help them find ways to regain control of their lives, and reassure them that “we will be there for them for the long haul and they are not alone.” Ms. White said it is recognized that children will be severely affected by the disaster and that anger will be their predominant emotional response. And that places a special burden on parents, teachers, and volunteers to help children deal with their anger in “appropriate ways.”

According to Mr. Coreil, adults are also responding with anger because there was “prior knowledge” of the risk that residents of New Orleans would face and because many of the requests made and disaster plans formulated were “never implemented.” And he said that factor is apparent in a “lot of the finger-pointing” at government officials at all levels. One of the best antidotes in the aftermath of the disaster, according to Becky White, is the caring concern offered by volunteers who give tangible help to victims and their families “one on one.” She said that disaster recovery centers are now being launched to provide physical and psychological support. Regarding America’s racial and economic divisions, she said, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in fact offers a “moment of opportunity” to address these problems.

Another area of opportunity that must be addressed, Paul Coreil said, is that of wetland management because wetlands are a “buffer to hurricane storm surge” along the Louisiana coast, which is the “most vulnerable state” to hurricanes. He noted that “massive improvements in response” would be necessary at the local, state, and federal level. Mr. Coreil also suggested that planning for future disasters should examine a larger role for the military in the initial response phase, when local officials may be overwhelmed. Becky White agreed, adding that more money and resources need to be put into “prevention.”

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.