Tornadoes Expose Post-Katrina Recovery Woes FEMA controversy continues

By Vincenzo Ciccone

NEW ORLEANS, La – The string of tornadoes that swept across New Orleans East on Feb. 7, leaving behind an unmistakably wide path of devastation, has renewed questions among area residents about whether governmental responses to natural disasters have improved following the Hurricane Katrina recovery debacle some eleven years ago.

Even though natural disasters are not new to this neighborhood east of the Industrial Canal, precisely the same community that felt the full devastation of Katrina, and officials do not claim to be surprised this area stands in the cross hairs of natural disasters, residents say recovery efforts have shown little improvement.

Ironically, improvement appears to be one of the key parts of the FEMA mandate. The agency’s mission statement provides the agency exists to “build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, recover from and mitigate all hazards,” according to the FEMA website.

Nevertheless, FEMA did not immediately respond to the Feb. 7 storm, delaying its announcement of the formation of a disaster recovery center in New Orleans east until some 5 days after the storm, according to government records.

Area residents say the automobiles, building materials and other debris that were thrown into the air by the fury of the tornadoes and can still be seen in precisely the same spots where they landed weeks later are evidence FEMA is not meeting its obligations.

Alicia Clivens, a New Orleans East resident for many years, expresses deep concern about the nature of the recovery help offered by elected officials.

“Although the tornadoes were not as devastating as Katrina, the assistance from the government simply has not improved. I think the community and out of town volunteers did and continue to do a fabulous job,” said Clivens. “However, I don’t think the elected officials and the municipal, state and federal governments are doing a great job. Food stamps are only for one month, and they should be for at least 6 months for those in the tornado area.”

Clivens’s criticism is not confined to government officials. “The insurance companies,” said Clivens, “are playing games with the insured and not paying adequate claims or have not sent adjusters yet. Debris and trashed cars are still where they landed.”

Wesley Stone, 24, who was on the ground to witness the devastation of the storm, is blunt in his criticism of FEMA. He talks of the role homeowner’s insurance plays in recovery.

“FEMA isn’t really doing anything to help the people without insurance on their property,” according to Stone.

FEMA officials say they are working as fast as they can, but recovery is a “complex process.”

Terrell Baylor, 22, doesn’t quite agree. “They did the right thing by classifying it as a state of emergency, but they were slow to do it.”

“I heard they give pennies on the dollars,” said Baylor. “They let you use food stamps to buy hot food in case you’re displaced and don’t have a kitchen. I guess overall they’re doing alright, but they can sure do a lot better.”

These still photos of New Orleans East document the devastation left in the wake of the powerful storm on Feb. 7.



Information on the FEMA Mission Statement:

The FEMA Definition of Substantial Improvement:

Information on the FEMA Recovery Center in New Orleans East:

Related Article on Settling Insurance Claims After a Disaster:

Related Article on Coping with the Effects of Severe Weather on Behavioral Health:

Related Article on Tornado Safety:

To view my tweets on the matter @Vinny_Ciccone


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