Tuesday, September 13, 2005


From the Times Picayune OUR OPINIONS: Welcome back, Mr. President.

Dear Mr. President,

Welcome to our wounded city. This is your third visit since Hurricane Katrina devastated metropolitan New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast two weeks ago. You will see that the obituaries for the Crescent City were premature. You can detect a pulse, albeit a faint one. New Orleanians, who are known for resilience and love of their hometown, are clamoring to return and rebuild. Commerce is stirring in the French Quarter, in the Central Business District, in Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. Substantial numbers of federal troops finally arrived to restore law and order. Much too late, but they are welcome nonetheless.

But don't kid yourself, Mr. President. This is only the beginning of what must become a gargantuan and sustained effort by you and your administration. A vast stretch of our homeland, your homeland, has been wrecked, submerged, washed away, contaminated, gutted. A huge diaspora of Americans has been scattered across the land. New Orleans, a crown jewel among American cities, is deeply stricken. What you are seeing today, Mr. President, is the aftermath of the worst, the most widespread disaster to befall an American city and its surroundings in the history of our country.

Such a catastrophe, Mr. President, calls for a commensurate response from you. It is not enough to have sent a massive deployment of troops. It is not enough to have visited three times. And, though we appreciate your intention, it is not enough to have removed the ineffectual head of FEMA from the scene.

Now comes the real test of your intention to make New Orleans work once again.

Mr. President, we're well aware that we cannot rely on government alone, that we must help ourselves. Already our people have begun to do so: rescuing, sheltering and raising money for the most desperate victims. But faced with a disaster like this hurricane, no community can fend for itself.

Many of us cannot return to our homes because they were flooded, due to inadequate levees and an inadequate effort to restore the coastline of Louisiana. These are problems that successive administrations, including yours, have ignored. All of us deserve a chance to return to decent homes.

New Orleanians also deserve to know that our federal government has made an all-out effort to ensure that a disaster like Katrina cannot happen again. Such an effort should include concrete and dirt, creative thinking, and a commitment that will last for years.

It also means a promise to do whatever it takes, whatever it costs, to restore Louisiana's coast. New Orleans cannot exist as a coastal city surrounded by levees so high they cast a shadow over our dwellings. It was once an inland river port, and it must be one once again.

The waters will recede, and the death toll may fall below earlier estimates. It will become easy -- with no evacuees on roofs, no starving, clamoring people at the Superdome and Convention Center -- to decide that you have fulfilled your commitment to New Orleans.

That would be a huge mistake, Mr. President. The New Orleans that we and the nation deserve will be protected by thriving marshlands, walled off for floods, rebuilt even for its poorest citizens. It will be endowed with the schools, roads and new infrastructure that will allow it once again to be a viable urban center, a vital port, a cultural treasure to America and the world.


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