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New Orleans: Two Years After the Levees Failed


HBO has been running When the Levees Broke: An American Tragedy hands down Spike Lee's most important work to date, in my opinion. I got just as angry watching it this time around as I did as it unfolded in 2005. The burning question that haunts me - how many dead remain unaccounted for? What are their names? Will we ever know? Columbia University's Earth Institute lists 595 missing with 84 Jane/John Does among the deceased. The majority of the victims were black males. In 1989, the US Government decided to invade Panama, or specifically, Panama City. The residents of Chorillo, a shantytown of 15,000 poor residents surrounding Noriega's National Defense Forces were of particular concern to the US and business interests in Panama. (See Alma Guillermoprieto's The Heart that Bleeds Knopf 1994 for the full story. It's fascinating). Like New Orleans 9th Ward or the Casbah in Algiers,
the Chorillo was a colorful patchwork of housing where service workers, construction workers, prostitutes and pimps lived. Seven hours after the US invaded Panama, the ordered the evacuation of the area, herded people into a sports stadium operated by US emergency relief personnel where they spent days in the hot sun. The Chorillo was consumed in flames, and when the poor returned home they had nothing left, except, as in New Orleans, Noah's Ark.

Without CNN's coverage of the debacle, we might not have known anything. The pictures of bloated bodies floating down the streets of a major American city - bloated black bodies - is something I am so ashamed of I haven't ventured out of the country since. Maybe I never will again.

New Orleans has received a federal grant of $100 million dollars to expand the network of primary care clinics in the area. Jackie Judd of the Kaiser Family Foundation interviewed Clayton Williams, Director of the Institute for Urban Health Initiatives who is responsible for administering this grant. It is a three year grant to try to stabilize the existing providers in the area. Everyone seems to be expressing "shock" at how slow the response is at the federal level to respond to the needs of people in the region - two years on.
  • Unknown number dead
  • 780,000 displaced
  • almost all suffered emotional trauma or depression but few received services
  • the elderly and children were especially vulnerable to psychological trauma
  • the health care system in New Orleans is crippled
  • those without insurance are going without care
  • survivors have difficulty focusing on health care because their basic survival needs are still not being met: food, shelter, transportation
  • the loss of connection with family and friends is particularly traumatic for survivors. Mr. Lee's film showed that there was little attempt to keep families and loved ones together in the aftermath of the storm and children were taken forcibly from the parents. One man described how he was forced, at gunpoint, at AK-47 gunpoint, to leave his dying mother behind. In America. In 2005. He never was given the chance to say goodbye.
Volunteers at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) worked around the clock for six months to reunite 5,192 children with their families. On March 17, 2006, a four year old girl - the last of the missing children- was reunited with her family following the worst public disaster in American history. The Center also solved 4,000 adult cases.
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