St. Charles Herald-Guide

A year later

By Dan Juneau - September 6, 2006

The mainstream media were loaded with stories recently about the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It almost seems insensitive for me to admit that I felt pain again while watching the replays of the nation's worst natural disaster.

After all, I only lost part of a fence and a few shingles in the storm, not loved ones, a house, a job or a business. However, watching the individuals stranded on roofs and in the Superdome and Convention Center brought back the emotions many of us felt a year ago when seeing a large part of our state totally devastated.

There is still numbness emanating from the aftermath of Killer Katrina in too much of the damage zone. St. Bernard Parish, lower Plaquemines, New Orleans East, the Ninth Ward, and pockets of other areas still lack the basic services necessary for ordinary living. Beyond utilities and infrastructure, the question of safety hangs in the air above every canal, pumping station and levee. The federal government says it is committed to rebuilding the hurricane safety net to "pre-Katrina" levels, but even that insufficient level of protection is months if not years from being in place.

Meanwhile, problems are crying out for solutions, and those who need the help most are not enamored with much of the leadership in place. The housing shortage remains critical a year after the storm. The release of the "Road Home" grant money to affected homeowners will help some, but too much of Louisiana is still years away from having enough affordable housing to bring back the area's displaced workforce.

Those who have come back are encountering problems they did not think about when they left. Utility costs are soaring, due to the huge amount of expensive infrastructure that utility companies are in the process of replacing. Property owners who are back in their houses and businesses are often finding huge increases in their property taxes. Then there is the insurance crisis. The problem is not so much the high cost of insurance—certainly a huge problem in and of itself. Even worse for property owners is trying to put in place the same amount of coverage they had before the storm. The evaporating insurance market is having a critical impact on both residential and commercial redevelopment in the disaster zones. Thus far, our elected officials have done little to stabilize the rapidly deteriorating insurance marketplace in Louisiana.

In my last visit to New Orleans, the most positive experience I encountered, I was talking to the waitress who served my breakfast. I asked her how she was doing in the aftermath of the storm and she replied: "I'm doing fine. I am a woman of faith, and the first thing I have faith in is me. I take on my challenges, one at a time, and solve them myself. Those who blame others or wait for help aren't going to make it. I will."

I gave her a hug and told her she should run for public office.