Mardi Gras is almost upon us. It is impossible to think of Mardi Gras without thinking of New Orleans, still devastated by Katrina. But while the media gleefully talks about which actors are participating, many Ninth Ward residents aren't as jubilant, having lived a Lenten-like deprivation for almost two years.
It has been 17 months since Katrina and broken levees devastated the Crescent City.
A helpless nation watched images of the unfamiliar: Third World America with a president up a creek without a paddle. Fleeing residents were first identified by media and government as refugees, not survivors.
The governor was frantic, a chicken with her head cut off. The off-color mayor described the city as like "fricking Baghdad." Now Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin expect an economic miracle, a J-curve rebound. Yet, the latest Census figures indicate that 241,201 people left the state. Homes and neighborhoods aren't fit to live in.
They call the state's $7.5 billion hurricane aid program the "Road Home." But the road home to New Orleans has potholes. Home insurers no longer are bound to Emergency Rule 23, enacted to prohibit post-Katrina cancellations. Relief money has been misspent or wasted. Federal, state and parish officials are caught up in turf battles. The mostly poorer sections, like the Lower 9th, are ghost towns.
True, French Quarter hotels and bars are busy. So are the casinos. Tourists still stroll Bourbon Street drinking Hand Grenades. Street performers are back. So is the Acme oyster house.
But all isn't well here.
Whole neighborhoods are gone. Not far from Armstrong Park you can find the remains of the day.
The silence is deafening. For blocks there are no people. Steps lead to nowhere, not porches. The random repopulated home becomes an oasis in a desert of despair.