There were hundreds of deaths, but this was not just a natural disaster. Underestimation and irresponsibility are at the root of the tragedy.
It’s 10 years later, and the wound is still open. Katrina will not be forgotten any time soon. It was one of the most destructive hurricanes in the history of the United States: almost 1,900 victims and hundreds of houses were destroyed; tens of thousands of lives were devastated in its path; one city, New Orleans, was submerged in water like a modern-day Atlantis. However, this hurricane will be remembered for a long time because it was not only a natural catastrophe, but also, and above all, an infrastructural failure in the richest and most technologically advanced nation in the world. It was something that could have been avoided, but was not.
Moreover, Katrina revealed the very indifferent face of public administration. Everyone still remembers the blameworthy delays and underestimations of federal agencies, which should have foreseen the consequences the impact of the hurricane would have on the old houses and new slums in New Orleans.
No one can forget that video where George W. Bush appears apathetic and disinterested when civil protection officials tell him that the storm would soon strike the city of Louisiana and nothing was done; few can forget the images of whole families taking refuge on roofs, the T-shirts used as flags to attract the attention of helicopters hovering in the sky, the white writing on dark tables: “Help us.”
Katrina was the tragedy of disinterest that authorities had for the most vulnerable sectors of the population, 70 percent African-American, in one of America’s poorest, deteriorating cities. It was, as many sensed then, a racial tragedy. The thought in many people’s minds was that if those neighborhoods washed away by the water had been inhabited by affluent white people, the authorities would have acted differently.
The declining path of George W. Bush, which started in 2004 with public doubt about the war in Iraq, took a sharp downward turn with Katrina. In 2010, Barack Obama attended the fifth anniversary, and today he marks the 10th anniversary with another visit to New Orleans. It was a tragedy for all of America, but in particular, the number of black people who died was too high. The first African-American president in the history of the United States knows this well.
The Open Wounds
Ten years later, the wounds are still open. A lot has been done to rebuild the city. But a lot — a huge amount — still remains to be done. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has explained that New Orleans suffered $150 billion in damages, and in this last decade, the federal government has provided $70 billion for rebuilding; a significant amount, but not enough. Once again, it is the less affluent classes that pay the consequences.
There are still thousands of homeless in their own homes. There are people, whole families even, who have returned to their partially destroyed houses but have never managed to repair them completely. This is due to a lack of funds or because the money from loans runs out before the work is done. A lot of money has been swindled by repair companies, which took payment in advance for repairs that were never finished. There are hundreds of cases of families that cannot afford to pay for electricity of gas.
All this is at the root of a paradox. There are thousands of people who do not have homes yet and who live in shelters despite there being thousands of empty houses, at least 43,000. In fact, this phenomenon was clear even before Katrina. With an oppressive economy and drop in the population rate, New Orleans was heading for the same fate as cities like Detroit.
Then the hurricane came and the city was emptied even further. The empty homes were part of its wound. Now, it is even deeper. And it is a difficult wound to treat. Financial intervention is required, and it has not been provided yet. This burden cannot be laid only on the shoulders of the city. During recent years, there have been dozens of projects carried out by private entities and associations, including Brad Pitt, to rebuild these houses.
The wounds of Katrina are still open and deep. In an America where economic inequality has grown and where racial issues are on the agenda, it is almost impossible to forget those days in August 10 years ago. And, after all, we are right not to forget.