Monday, December 18, 2006

Not a Merry Christmas in the Ninth Ward

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media. Recommended at Daily Kos

Well, just as there wasn’t much joy in Whoville, thus is life in the Lower 9th Ward nowadays – nearly eighteen months after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast – nearly a year and a half after Bush stood in New Orleans (finally, after his criminal negligence) and proclaimed that New Orleans will rise again.

The most famous of the destroyed areas outside of New Orleans has little to show for it other than desolation, weeds and debris as we approach the second holiday season after the levees around New Orleans (that this administration knew wouldn’t hold but still underfunded them) were breached and one of America’s most historic and cultural cities was no more – at least as far as anyone who ever lived or visited there would attest to.

A heart-wrenching article in today’s Times-Picayune has interviews, stories, examples and mind boggling statistics that paint a picture that is emblematic of just why this is the worst, most uncaring and selfish administration many of us will see in our lifetimes.

The stream of tourists has dried to a trickle from the torrent that once came by cab or in rented cars. They called it simply the Lower 9th, referring not to the political jurisdiction that stretches all the way through eastern New Orleans but to the devastated grid of about 20 by 25 blocks that had been embraced by worldwide media as the emblem of Katrina's assault on the city's working poor.

There is the story of 83 year old Herbert Gettridge, Sr. whose block is pretty much barren and whose wife is over a thousand miles away and can’t come back until the house is rebuilt:
Sixteen months after the floodwaters tore through his stucco-coated shotgun, Gettridge's neighbors haven't returned, and most of them probably never will.

"A lot of people can't come back," said Gettridge, a stubborn 83-year-old who has been rebuilding to provide a home for his ailing wife, who yearns for him in Madison, Wis. "In some cases, some people are better off now than they were before the storm."

Out of the more than 5,500 homes in the Lower 9th Ward before Katrina struck, there are demolition permits outstanding for around 1,300 of them – the highest of any area in New Orleans. Sadly though, demolition permits don’t necessarily mean that there will be rebuilding. The telling sign here is the number of electrical permits that have been applied for
[o]nly 3 percent (of homes) in the Lower 9th (have applied for electrical permits), enough to power only 152 houses, three of them belonging to Gettridge.

"When you open the door at night, you don't see nothing but broken-down houses. There's nobody to talk to," said Gettridge, who contents himself with his television, a crank radio and a King James version of the Bible.

And in true Christmas spirit – the grinches are back – thieves who are stealing whatever is left from people’s property. Like Gettridge’s $800 generator, which was stolen right out of his backyard recently along with some plywood.

Just over two weeks ago, another body was found in the Lower 9th Ward during a demolition. Officials think that it could be yet another victim of Katrina. Mind you – this is over sixteen months later – after the search for bodies was abandoned – much like the city was in the lead up, wake of and aftermath of the Hurricane.

An article in yesterday’s Seattle Times talks about reaching out to those in the Gulf Coast who the author had met with last year. And, similar to all of the other stories, this isn’t chock full of holiday cheer:

I called Ernest Ratliff at his service station in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. He said so little I thought the phone had gone dead.

But no. Just his hope.


"Everything is about the same," Ratliff told me the other day. "We ain't got no help yet. The only insurance we had was on the cars."

Christmas? Too much to think about.

"We take it one day at a time. We just keep on going."

As for the icing on the cake, NPR reported last week that FEMA, the organization that wasted tens of millions of dollars, according to a recent GAO report, is now fighting a federal order to pay Katrina victims.

This city – these people – whose lives were ruined in the course of hours, have been pushed to the back burner. Treated as an afterthought for well over a year now. But during this holiday season, please take a moment to think about these Americans who deserve much better than what life has thrown at them.

May the new year bring them some level of peace and happiness.

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