New Orleans, September 2, 2008
The good news is that nearly two million people evacuated
and were spared the direct hit of Gustav. Our sisters and
brothers in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who were not able
to leave the point of the storm, lost over 100 lives. The
people of the U.S. were fortunate to be able to leave.
The bad news is that most people have not been allowed
Since the storm, New Orleans and numerous other coastal
communities have continued 24 hour curfews and prohibited people
from returning by posting law enforcement at all entrances. Officials
argue that neighborhoods are without electricity and return would
be challenging due to the presence of downed trees and power lines.
Locking people out is quite a hardship and also very
challenging for the hundreds of thousands of displaced working families.
As one local resident put it, “I understand that most public officials
are saying for us to stay away as a safety aspect, but they do not
realize that some of us cannot afford to stay away that long.”
Garland Robinette, a respected radio voice of WWL
radio, was also pleading with elected officials on air this afternoon,
“What are you going to do about the poor people who can’t afford
another hotel room?”
When the average weekly wage for workers in the hotel
and restaurant business is less than $400 a week, the least expensive
hotel, plus gas and meals for a family since last Saturday or Sunday,
can eat up a week’s wages in no time. Additionally, tens of
thousands of people have also lost a week of work because most workers
are not paid for the time during evacuation. That puts families
two weeks of wages behind.
That it why there are widespread reports of families
now parked on the side of the highway or in parking lots waiting
for permission to come home.
Over 60,000 people are in 300 shelters across the
South. Those who came by publicly paid buses will not be allowed
to return until perhaps the weekend.
People who cannot come home are now being told to
contact the Red Cross and local churches to see if they will provide
Despite our continuing problems, we are all thankful
for the good fortune we have had. We are also grateful for
the help of our neighbors, families and friends who have put us
up, given us money for gas, and allowed us to shower and use their
Nearly two million people cooperated in the evacuation.
New Orleans and other coastal communities reported only a handful
of arrests. This has worked really well so far. But
unless officials are sensitive to the serious financial crunch that
working and poor families are in, the risk is that next time large
numbers of people will be less likely to evacuate.
(Note: BC recommends Bill Quigley's
column about the 3rd anniversary of Katrina: Katrina
Columnist, Bill Quigley, is a human rights lawyer and law professor
at Loyola University, New Orleans.
He has been an active public interest lawyer since 1977 and has
served as counsel with a wide range of public interest organizations
on issues including Katrina social justice issues, public housing,
voting rights, death penalty, living wage, civil liberties, educational
reform, constitutional rights and civil disobedience. He has litigated
numerous cases with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Advancement Project,
and with the ACLU
of Louisiana, for which he served as General Counsel for over
15 years. Bill is one of the lawyers for displaced residents.
Additionally, Bill is the author of the forthcoming book, Storms
Still Raging: Katrina, New Orleans and Social Justice. Click here
to contact Mr. Quigley.