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Stitching up New Orleans | Katrina hit two years ago
this week. How far has the city come, how far does
it have to go?

Awaiting a commitment

August 27, 2007|Jim Amoss | Jim Amoss is the editor of the Times-Picayune

Living in post-Katrina New Orleans is like watching someone you love rebound from a massive stroke. The recovery is halting, and strangers keep asking, "Is he back to normal?" One day he utters a complete sentence -- a paltry achievement for someone who once spoke eloquently. The strangers are shocked at his diminished state, but you who've been at his bedside rejoice, for you remember the days of incoherent stammering.

We who have not left since the storm ravaged our city find ourselves somewhere between the stammering and the eloquence of old. The city that tourists know, mainly the French Quarter and Garden District, is once again its beloved self. But the flooded area, seven times the size of Manhattan, is still struggling back to life.

Our recovery is driven more by the creativity and resilience of homeowners and neighborhood associations, by the 1.1 million volunteers from across the nation than by government. Government on every level has been slow to respond, wasteful of the people's money, lacking in coherent vision and forever looking over its partisan shoulder for an opportunity to place blame or seek credit. Now one senses that our nation's politicians would prefer to move on to a tidier topic.

To move on, to surrender to "Katrina fatigue" would not only grieve us who live here, it would make a calamitous statement about the exhaustion of America's will to be great, to triumph over adversity. Don't think of New Orleans as a flooded city. Think of it as Berlin at the end of World War II, its infrastructure pulverized, its people homeless, its economy shattered. To rebuild from that man-made disaster required a Marshall Plan and years of governmental and civilian commitment. The man-made disaster in New Orleans, caused by the Corps of Engineers' shoddy design of our levees, requires no less.

What would a Marshall Plan for New Orleans entail? It would mean a commitment that only the federal government could make -- to restore the eroding coastline and vanishing wetlands of Louisiana, to build levees and floodgates to withstand a 1,000-year storm, rather than the 100-year event now envisioned. It would cost billions of dollars. It would fulfill the promise delivered by President Bush's reconstruction czar, Donald Powell, who vowed after Katrina to build the "best levee system known in the world." It would revive a city that stands at the fulcrum of one-third of the nation's oil and gas and 40% of its seafood, that gave birth to much of our nation's indigenous culture, and that belongs to us all.

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