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100 Days After Being Hit by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Continues to Struggle

One hundred days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, the city once known for its easy, laid-back style continues to struggle. Once home to more than half a million people, fewer than 60,000 have returned to New Orleans.

In the city's historic French Quarter and the Garden District, where flooding was less severe, the recovery is already underway.

But in some of the poorest areas, the prospects for recovery are less obvious.

In the place where we stand, one survivor says, "You're in my front room right now."

Anna Firstley's house is unsafe for human habitation, but she's more angry that she wasn't allowed to see what was left of it for three months.

Even worse, says Doreen Keeler, another hurricane survivor, is that 100 days after the fact, many who lost homes are still not getting the help they need.

"We are in the same position as we were three months ago. We need answers. We need help,"

U.S. lawmakers investigating what went wrong before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, heard one frustrating story after another from survivors who say the federal government forgot about the residents of New Orleans.

Leah Hodges suggested racism played a role in the government's response.

"The military, which has the great capability in moving entire cities, failed to move in and move out the people, the way dogs and fish had been moved out. And people were left to die, mostly poor, mostly people of color."

When some witnesses compared themselves to victims of genocide, some congressmen rejected the comments as inappropriate.

But some said the current situation speaks volumes.

Right now, 40,000 families are still living in trailers. Thousands have started new lives in 44 states. And for some who went back, like Patricia Ann Santiago, life in the "Big Easy" has been anything but. "I'm praying everyday that we don't have to live like this. This is hard for me to live like this."

Since August 29th, the day the category four storm drove half a million people away, only ten percent have returned.

Mayor Ray Nagin recently launched a crosscountry tour to lure them back.

"Right now in the city of New Orleans, 70 percent of the city has electricity. And we've got an commitment from Entergy that by January the entire city will be available for power."

But many residents fear the city they left will never be the same. Although some vital public services are functioning, only 50 percent of homes currently have gas service, only ten percent of the city's buses are operating, and of 116 public schools, only one has reopened. Five more schools are scheduled to open this month but only 4,000 students are registered.

Before Katrina, 55,000 students attended public schools in New Orleans. But schools may not be the best measure of the city's progress.

Robert Howard, Director for Community Recovery with the Red Cross says,

"I think the better barometer right now is the neighborhoods, and as the neighborhoods are opening and as the people are able to come back into those neighborhoods, there's still a lot of infrastructure rebuilding going on there and so that will be kind of a process that's going to roll over time."

But even with billions of dollars in federal assistance, it's a process that authorities say will take a long time. In low-lying areas where entire neighborhoods were almost completely submerged, thousands of houses remain uninhabitable.

And jobs remain scarce. Despite a rebound in fast food restaurants and the reopening of about half of the city's hotels, the unemployment rate in metropolitan New Orleans stands at 15 percent, a net loss of over 220,000 jobs.

Mr. Howard says difficulties will continue but he believes the people of New Orleans want to rebuild. "People really need to know that recovery is a community effort."

The city is not there yet. The most striking evidence of the scope of Katrina's damage is when the sun goes down. Beyond the city lights downtown, the darkness of the empty neighborhoods stretches for miles.