Monday, September 12, 2005

Bush visits New Orleans city centre amid further criticism

President Bush visited the city centre area of New Orleans today for the first time. It has been his 3rd visit to the Gulf Coast in the past week, and comes as his ratings in one poll did not reach even a worrying 40%.

“A lot of Americans don’t pay attention to their leaders on a day-to-day basis,” said Robert Blendon, a public opinion analyst at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “They measure presidents, governors and mayors on how they handle big events like a hurricane. This event is not over because the bodies are going to be discovered day by day.”

Criticism has also been directed at New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for the city’s general response — criticism which argues that the entire city should have been evacuated and centres around the availability of a small number of buses which were unused.

As concerns abated slightly over the state of floodwaters — major toxicity has not been found but there are exceptionally high levels of E coli and lead — the city was sprayed yesterday at dusk to kill mosquitoes which have infested the waterlogged areas. Today, work began on rebuilding Interstate 10, also called ‘the twin span,’ which suffered heavy damage in the storm. The road was constructed over a body of water in short concrete sections and provides an exit to the north. It will be rebuilt by Boh Bros. of New Orleans.

That houses, roads and other infrastructure will not be rebuilt by providing Gulf Coast workers with jobs is a possibility which worries many politicians and commentators:

Tourism brings $10 billion to New Orleans annually and accounts for about 15 percent of the city’s jobs. Because those jobs tend to be relatively low-paying, they are held mostly by the poor minority residents of New Orleans who were disproportionately harmed by Hurricane Katrina.

Some commentators have suggested that some of the poorest residents of the Big Easy will never come back. With no homes or other possessions to connect them to New Orleans, the theory goes, they will simply stay wherever Katrina and the Red Cross blew them.

But for better or worse, the tourism industry in New Orleans needs the poor and will probably draw some of them back. That means the city’s low-income housing, largely destroyed by the post-Katrina flood, is likely to be rebuilt.

With so many opportunities to redevelop wealthier areas, developers will probably have very little interest in building low-income housing in places like the Ninth Ward, which is one of the nation’s poorest urban neighborhoods. The federal government has been trying for decades to get out of the landlord business.

A shortage of affordable housing may cause some further contraction of the city’s population, which has shrunk about 30 percent over the past 40 years.

Further news is given day by day of the drainage effort, and on Sunday 67 pumps, both fixed and temporary, were operating in the city. A pump status map has been made available by the Army Corps of Engineers, and currently shows that 26 of New Orleans’ 120 pump stations are operational.

In Mississippi, the Corps has been working to restore power, provide water and ice, remove debris and provide temporary rooves to damaged buildings.

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