It’s pretty common for news reports to look back on such disasters and the subsequent recovery efforts when their anniversaries come around. The hope is that these stories will be about people persevering and overcoming these tragedies and that the relief efforts have been an overwhelming success.
I recall that the one-year anniversary of the start of the oil spill seemed to arrive just as the leak was capped off. But since the spill was capped after three months, maybe I’m thinking that the news coverage of the spill had just stopped at about the one-year mark. No doubt there will be many years of environmental effects felt from that disaster as the chemicals seep into multiple generations of plant and animal life —and provide years of content on slow news days.
OK, so no happy ending there. At least not yet; maybe in 1,000 years or so.
What about Hurricane Katrina? That was a big catastrophe, what with 1,700 people killed and billions of dollars in damage caused by flooding and high winds. But after six years all the victims should have gotten their lives back in order, right?
Some students at the University of Nevada, Reno, recently saw that is far from the case. Eleven members of the UNR United Way spent their spring break helping the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit organization formed 2006 to create housing opportunities for Katrina survivors in order for them to return to their homes and communities. The students painted, mudded walls and laid flooring for an elderly woman whose home was destroyed in the hurricane.
I spoke on the phone with Felicia Kampf, a 23-year-old nutrition major who is the president of the UNR United Way, about the trip. When Hurricane Katrina struck, she was 17 and in high school. If there was a foot race between Kampf’s college career and Hurricane Katrina relief, she is going to win even though she slowed down and took an extra year for the relief to catch up.
“As years go by you don’t hear about it anymore really,” she said. “It’s shocking to go there and see houses with windows all boarded up like they were years ago.”
Almost as shocking to see it is to hear about it. Not so much for houses that have been abandoned because their owners moved on, but it is shocking to hear about houses whose owners hope to reoccupy them but can’t because of a lack of help. There has been a lot of discussion about the government’s failure to both prevent and react to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, but it has been almost six years. In that time, the U.S. government has spent a whole lot of money on a whole lot of things that are a lot less important than taking take of our own citizens at home. Primarily, I’m thinking about overseas military action in the Middle East.
It’s great that we killed Osama bin Laden last week, but it more than likely could have been done with fewer troops sitting out in the desert sucking up tax dollars. Just like a household must do in times of dire need, the government must reign in its expenses when the chips are down. And given the government’s monumental failure to protect residents of Louisiana from the well-known potential of nature’s fury, the least it could have done was pull back a chunk of the military and get those hurricane victims back into repaired homes.
But no, there are plenty of college kids to take care of it.
“It’s really hard to see that five years after — now six years after — Katrina that there were still homes completely vacant and where people who actually want to come back to their homes can’t,” Kampf said.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to check the news and see if something worse has happened to the South yet.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.