The editors of the New Orleans Times-Picayune pulled no punches on the dismal federal response to Hurricane Katrina in their first open letter to President Bush on Sept. 4. Today, they’ve done it again, timing a new missive to the President’s third post-Katrina visit to the area.
The takeaway: We’re not going away, Mr. President. Commit to doing whatever it takes to rebuild our city better than it was before — including restoration of Louisiana’s coast and the Mississippi River.
Here’s an excerpt, emphases mine:
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 …
… 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.