I spent last weekend in New Orleans where I participated in an amazing few days of intense (and off-the-record) conversations with thinkers from around the world. Humbling, to say the least.
It was all positive except for a FEMA-led tour of the re-construction effort. We drove and walked through some of the affected areas. Acres of abandoned, shrub-filled land. Loads of wreckage and empty houses. Most upright houses still have markings like the photo here, the numbers referring to the dead bodies found inside. Yellow water lines still mark the sides of houses.
My big question during the tour was, "Where is the re-construction effort?" Where are the people? Trucks? Hammers? Shovels? Where has all the money gone? I expected to hear and see stuff. Instead entire neighborhoods have simply been abandoned.
During the tour someone asked, "Will FEMA have its act together next time around?" Answer: Not really. Louisiana’s emergency preparedness plans are still in disarray. If another big hurricane were to hit New Orleans, we could bet that chaos would ensue.
It’s hard to point fingers. After all, there are a gazillion agencies and people involved — FEMA, local officials, state officials, insurers, volunteer groups, churches, civic activists, professors. True leadership seems lacking.
I don’t know much about the situation in New Orleans. But from my weekend visit I’m not optimistic. If you want to go to the French Quarter and be a tourist, life’s good. If you venture outside a few core areas, New Orleans doesn’t look much different from the photos you saw a year or two ago. And that’s really scary.