Posted March 21, 2006 – As city officials slowly recover bodies in Katrina-ravaged neighborhoods of New Orleans, some families have begun to accept that they may never find their missing relatives, while others are becoming outraged with a different but equally unsettling message from the city's mayor: “Rebuild where you like, but rebuild at your own risk.”
Mayor Ray Nagin, speaking at a public hearing Monday night – the very day that two more decayed bodies were retrieved from collapsed neighborhoods – said that the city would not prevent reconstruction in areas considered vulnerable to flooding in future storms, despite the recommendation from a council he appointed warning against rebuilding.
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"I have confidence that our citizens can intelligently decide for themselves where they want to rebuild, once presented with the facts," Nagin said. "I believe government investment should follow citizens' investment."
Nagin said he would not lift a moratorium preventing low-lying areas from being granted building permits
That set residents off.
"I'm here to talk about what I keep hearing — rebuild at our own risk," said a fuming Cora Charles, a resident of the mostly Black Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest-hit communities. "That bothers me because if you and the rest remember, the city of New Orleans flooded because of the breach in the levees."
Charles asked the mayor if he knew that the city was surrounded by water.
"If you go north, it's the Pontchartrain Lake; if you go west, it's the Bonne Carre Spillway; to the south, it's the Mississippi River; and if you go east, it's Lake Bourne. So who's at risk?"
Babatunji Ahmed, a carpenter from New Orleans shared her frustration. "We want our Black people back,” he yelled. “We want our workers back to rebuild our city. It was us on the roofs. Somebody is trying to keep us away from this economic pie!” Ahmed blasted suggestions that the city reduce its size.
“The smaller footprint means you don't want my mamma back! You don't want my grandchildren back!” he vented.
Although, the mayor warned residents that even with repairs now being made to the city's levee system, some neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city will remain vulnerable to storm flooding for as long as two years, until more improvements can be made.
"The Army Corps of Engineers has warned me that some of our lowest-lying areas of New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward will have some flooding from levees overtopping if another hurricane travels along the same path of Katrina," Nagin said.
Nagin encouraged residents to consider taking advantage of a buy-out program that would pay them up to $150,000 for property in those areas.
Meanwhile, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, in Cuba this week, criticized Washington for refusing Fidel Castro’s offer to send doctors to the Gulf Coast region after Katrina struck last August, flooding neighborhoods mainly populated by poor Blacks, Reuters reported.
Farrakhan said he wants to make sure Gulf residents are better prepared, since the U.S. government failed them, Reuters reported.
"After Hurricane Katrina and the failure of federal and state government, we felt it was our duty to come to Cuba to learn disaster management from the Cuban people who have had many hurricanes and have not lost lives," he said.
Farrakhan said he plans to share this knowledge with impoverished Black, Hispanic and Native American communities.
Do you think Mayor Nagin is being insensitive to residents who were hardest hit by the storm? Click "Discuss Now" to post your comment.