Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans has encouraged residents to return to their homes this week, despite warnings from Vice Admiral Allen, the officer in charge of the recovery effort. While some progress has been made in the destroyed city, most of the city’s infrastructure remains offline, or extremely flimsy. This includes hospitals, firehouses, and police stations. 40% of the city is still flooded, and many of the parts that have been drained still have mud-caked streets, which contain unknown levels of pathogens and other toxins.
Doctors warn that major disease risks remain, and Vice Admiral Allen says the city stills lacks basic services, contradicting the Mayor’s request.
“The second wave of disaster is when you welcome the people back and the infrastructure of the city is not in place,” said Dr Peter Deblieux, a casualty specialist at a New Orleans hospital.
Vice Adm Allen said the mayor’s plans to get 200,000 people back to their homes within the next 10 days were “extremely problematic”.
Ironically, this misplaced call to return comes even as some residents are still being forcibly evacuated. Tourism has been “slammed,” and many business owners who are returning to discover the state of their business are without customers, if they are even able to open at all. This begs the question: how do you rebuild a city with no commercial infrustructure? Without places to make or spend money, the city is a black hole of an economy. With most of the foodstuffs coming from the government or organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, what will residents do with their time once they return to the city? How will they rebuild if they are financially crippled, as many are? How does a city with a population without money jumpstart the wheels of economy? Government handouts? I’m not sure that would work either.
Health issues aside, the city of New Orleans is too broken to support rebuilding quite yet. The city and its people would be better off following Vice Admiral Allen’s suggestion to wait a little while longer.
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