Feature

New Orleans

It’s no place like home.

The streets of New Orleans may finally be drained of floodwater, said Jennifer Medina in The New York Times, but the city is hardly habitable. Two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, 22 million tons of uncollected waste fill the city's streets, creating the 'œlargest and most complicated cleanup in American history.' In neighborhood after neighborhood, mounds of sodden, rotting garbage are piled on curbs and front lawns. Thousands of refrigerators lie abandoned, filled with food that weeks of 90-degree temperatures have turned into putrid liquids. A nauseating stench fills the air—'œa mix of sour milk, foul river water, and rotting meat.' Flies and maggots are everywhere. All told, there is more garbage than any city produces in a year, and it will take months or years to haul it all away. But to where? Much of the waste can't simply be dumped into landfills, since people are throwing out hazardous household chemicals and electronic equipment containing toxic substances like Freon and mercury.

No wonder city officials are getting panicky, said Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times. Only about 5 percent of the city's 460,000 residents have returned, and a new survey found that four in 10 residents don't plan on ever moving back. Their homes are gone, the city reeks, and the tourist trade is badly damaged. In desperation, Mayor Ray Nagin has proposed making the Central Business District 'œa Las Vegas strip of giant gambling casinos.' But the plan isn't even backed by his own reconstruction commission, so it's going nowhere. The response from Washington hasn't exactly been inspiring, either. Out of 2,520 small-business loan applications, 'œonly six have survived the Washington bureaucracy.'

Who's in charge? asked The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. That was the question during the city's botched evacuation, and it's still the question today. Politicians on both the right and left have turned the Gulf Coast into 'œa giant petri dish' to test their pet theories about rebuilding a community. Predictably, Republicans are pushing investment tax breaks and school vouchers; Democrats want a massive new redevelopment authority, reminiscent of the Depression-era Tennessee Valley Authority. President Bush's 'œGulf Opportunity Zone' was supposed to bring the best of these ideas into one package, said The New York Times in an editorial. But when conservatives howled at his pledge to do 'œwhatever it takes' to revive the city, Bush quietly retreated. Now the White House is insisting that there will be no big New Orleans Recovery Package sent to Congress. Once again, the people of New Orleans are confronted with 'œa vast gulf between words and action.'

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