Monday, September 19, 2005

Going Home to New Orleans

The conflict - so far pretty low key - between New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Vice Admiral Thad Allen bears watching. It's too soon to say if there are reasons other than those advanced by Allen for people not to return to the city. All indications are that for now, there really aren't the basic services needed to support those who would return.

However, we saw the disregard for the ability of the elderly and poor to evacuate, and there have already been calls for the poor neighborhoods of the area to be returned to wetlands and swamp. And of course there have been various politicians who've questioned whether to even spend the money to rebuild the city at all.

Some of the important questions are:

1. How will those displaced by the storm return to New Orleans?

Will FEMA again run convoys of busses to reverse the diaspora? Who will want to return and who will not?
2. What will they return to?

Mini-cities of mobile homes and pre-fab buildings are supposed to spring up all around the Gulf Coast. Will the displaced want to move into these homes or will they demand to return to their old neighborhoods? What services will be available and what will they have to do without - and for how long?
3. What will the EPA have to say on the safety of the areas hardest hit?

How well will these areas be cleaned and what systems will be put in place to monitor the continuing clean up and long-term health effects of residents who return?
4. What areas will be subject to eminent domain?

Refinery capacity is badly needed in the country and other industrial areas have long needed room to expand along the Gulf Coast. Will government, at all levels, be able to resist allowing such expansion at the expense of poorer neighborhoods? Should they resist?
5. How quickly and how diligently will FEMA and other agencies work to get people out of the "FEMAvilles" they'll be moved to?

Will these people be conveniently "forgotten" in their new ghettos, with no means to return home? If so, how long will the sharks wait before moving into their old neighborhoods claiming that they've been abandoned?
I'm sure I've missed plenty of other questions to be asked but I think these are enough to get some people to pay attention. We shouldn't let the flurry of Rove's PR blitz blind us to what's really going on.

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