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Response may last a decade

Faith-based organizations keep working to find ways to help Katrina survivors.


"Our office gets calls almost daily from people in need"

—Alan Coe, United Church of Christ

The historic Roosevelt Hotel here has reopened its doors four years after Hurricane Katrina dumped ten feet of water in its basement, restored to its former glory thanks to a $145 million renovation. However, the rest of Louisiana could be in for another 10 years of rebuilding.

Christina Stephens of the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) said, “The Northridge earthquake is the only other natural disaster that compares in scope to Katrina and it took 13 years to close out.”

“You’ll probably see some infrastructure work that lasts for another 10 years,” said Stephens. “In major projects alone.”

It is not for lack of effort or spending that recovery still has a long way to go; more than $9 billion has been spent in infrastructure and $8 billion in housing over the years.

Faith-based relief organizations have poured a lot of sweat into rebuilding homes since the storms thundered over and agree that while a lot of progress has been made, there is still much to be done.

“Our office gets calls almost daily from people in need,” said Alan Coe from the United Church of Christ (UCC). “People who work in the field figure we are about halfway done.”

The UCC, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), Church of the Brethren, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) and countless other organizations have offered assistance to those in need and to the LRA.

Faith-based and non-profit organizations have been working with the LRA to explain to the government that come March, there will be thousands of homeless people in Louisiana.

“They (faith organizations) touch people at a level and way that we can’t in government,” said Stephens.

Thousands of residents have now been transferred to more permanent housing because of governmental grace with deadlines, but there are close to 1,000 more that still remain in temporary rental properties and must be moved.

Nearly 75 percent of the population has returned to New Orleans, 125,000 Road Home grants have been given to people with another 1,500 to 2,000 applicants to be served this year, 1,500 rental properties have been built and larger rental developments and in the first months of this year the LRA has spent $1.2 billion.

Now Stephens said, “We are looking for ways to push the people who are just on the edge of rebuilding all the way over.”

Each year on the anniversary of Katrina, meetings are held to analyze recovery progress. For the first time, this discussion shifted away from hurricane recovery and towards economic development, said Stephens.

“People have started to find some normalcy and have started to adjust to post-Katrina reality,” said Stephens. “We need to rebuild our communities in a way that may not have been like before but is better now.”

A quote by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is inscribed on the homepage of the city’s recovery Website that reads, “We are reinventing ourselves, and we will never be the same, we’ll only be better.”

The vast damage Katrina and Rita caused has taught “the great city by the river” a lesson or two to increase the safety of its citizens.

The Base Flood Elevation requirement has been raised three feet for houses built in the lower ninth ward and charitable organizations like Brad Pitt’s Make It Right are building houses at eight and ten feet above flood elevation.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers has also teamed up with Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch agency in charge of the major flood protection efforts in the Netherlands, over the years to create a system of protection from category five storms.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall over the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a category three hurricane. A month later, Hurricane Rita struck between Texas and Louisiana on September 24.

Thousands of people lost their lives in the initial storm damage due to Katrina; 1.3 billion people were displaced by both storms, $150 billion in damages and more than 300,000 homes were destroyed.

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