As of a couple of weeks ago, report the data-crunchers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, only 54 temporary housing units remain occupied from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck Louisiana six years ago.
Six years is a long time, and that lingering bit of housing assistance is truly only a bit in the largest civilian evacuation in American history.
As FEMA regional administrator Tony Russell noted, that’s 54 units out of a fleet of trailers and mobile homes that once held about 92,000 households.
For the record, the FEMA website can provide a ton of such data points in the vast acreage of spreadsheets about the federal side of the recovery from Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which hit southwestern Louisiana just a few weeks later. That information is at http://www.fema.gov/la6year.
While we needed all the help we could get, time has not yet entirely erased the difficulty that Louisiana officials had in getting aid boosted to a level commensurate with the damage caused by the two storms.
And while recovery is certainly under way, it is far from clear when recovery will be accomplished, in the full sense of the term.
Damaged buildings and vacant lots are still plentiful in the parishes of metropolitan New Orleans hit by storm surges and flooding from failed levees.
The city of New Orleans, fortunately, has worked its way through the hapless administrations of former Mayor Ray Nagin and now appears to be on what FEMA cheerily calls “six years of upward momentum.”
Upward, of course, from a very low point.
While the loss of life and signs of the physical damage remain up close and personal to the people of Louisiana, we doubt that Americans have forgotten the feelings of helplessness and despair occasioned by the images of the flooding in New Orleans.
That was not just a low point for our state but for our nation. The idea that the greatest nation on Earth was flailing about in response to Katrina was a humbling experience, if not a humiliating one.
Through the years that have followed, there have been significant changes in Louisiana. New levee walls, one hopes more reliable than their predecessors, but also some reforms of governance in New Orleans proper, have been achieved. The state seeks a more-comprehensive approach to coastal restoration and flood protection.
The taxpayers of the United States have not stinted with assistance, although it took some persuading on the part of the state about the dimensions of aid needed, particularly for the housing crisis post-Katrina. But even now some homeowners are not yet back in houses they have sought to repair.
Six years is a long time, but it clearly is not enough time.
We are encouraged by the signs of economic recovery in the New Orleans area, and also signs that Baton Rouge and the Crescent City are working together.
Louisiana’s two largest cities were thrown together in a shotgun marriage, but there are few responsible officials who would say today — as they might have before — that the southeastern region of the state is not an economic unit with shared interests in mutual prosperity.
Today, as ceremonies and remembrances are held for the landfall of Katrina, the losses felt by many families will be recalled. There are also less-visible scars, particularly among young children cast into refugee status by the failure of the levees.
Six years is a long time in the life of a child, and we’re hopeful that most are now at a stable place compared with the chaos of the aftermath of the hurricanes.
The storms of 2005 cannot be forgotten.
We hope the recollection of those events will lead Louisianians to look toward the future with a new dedication to ensuring that the mistakes and errors of omission before Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita will not be repeated.