By Charles Bloomer
I just returned from a short business trip to New Orleans. While I did not have the time to tour all of the areas affected by last year’s hurricanes, the places I did observe were beyond description. And I didn’t even get to the worst hit places.
The images I have seen on television and in the papers do not even begin to show the scope of the hurricane damage. Everywhere I went the damage was evident. Everywhere I looked there was evidence of the destruction, much of it still untouched, unrepaired.
Along Canal Street, a major business district, many buildings were still boarded up. Reconstruction was going on in several places. The buildings being worked were obvious, identified by the great piles of rubbish generated by the complete gutting in progress. Canal Street is a major boulevard with two lanes running in both directions and trolley tracks down the center divider. In places, lanes are blocked with the damaged residue of buildings being repaired. Several businesses, including hotels and restaurants have re-opened, but much still needs to be done.
The route I drove to get me to my meeting took me through several residential areas. Again, the devastation was evident everywhere I looked. The majority of the houses were still standing, but most were abandoned. Piles of debris still cluttered the yards. A few brave families were living in camp trailers parked in their yards as they rebuilt.
My meeting was in a building right on the shore of Lake Ponchartraine. Remarkably, the building had not flooded, but the hurricane damage had caused rain water to leak through the roof down the load bearing walls. The building had only recently been refurbished so that the businesses could move back in.
Considering how little I saw, it is beyond my power of imagination to be able to project the scope of the damage. Even piecing together my own observations with the news clips I had seen since the hurricane did not provide me with an adequate picture. My observations were seven months after Hurricane Katrina. If what I saw was unimaginable, the immediate aftermath must have been truly mind-boggling. The power of nature is incomprehensible.
In the months since the devastation along the Gulf Coast, there has been unceasing criticism of government agencies at all levels. The preparation was inadequate, rescue was slow, and recovery actions are confusing and disjointed. Certainly, the response of government agencies was not perfect, and improvements are necessary, especially in the coordination and communication between federal, state, and local agencies.
However, it is easy to criticize. It is something totally different to come up with a coherent plan to repair the massive amount of damage and to restore some sense of normalcy to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. When it is so difficult to take in the scope and extent of the damage, it is difficult to even come up with a place to start. How do we best assist the people displaced? How do we help people who have lost everything? Can we help everyone at once? If not, how do we determine whom to help first? How do we best focus our efforts? Should we rely solely on government, or should we encourage private charities, churches, and individuals to lend a hand?
I don’t know the answers. And it doesn’t appear that anyone else does either. There may not be any good answers or adequate answers that will satisfy everyone. In fact, I doubt that there is any solution that will make everyone happy.
What I did see in my short time in New Orleans was a slow recovery, a recovery fueled by the desire of businesses to re-establish themselves and by the desire of individuals to restore their homes and lives. Government may be of assistance, private efforts may help. But the most successful recovery will be the result of a firm application of the American Spirit.
Life disrupted by last year’s devastating hurricanes will recover. The light of the human spirit may have gotten wet, may have even dimmed for a time, but that light was not extinguished. The damaged or destroyed areas may not come back exactly as they were and may not look the same as before, but life will return. The recovery may take time, but it will happen.
The destruction may be mind-boggling, but then so is the resiliency of the American people.
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