"If we get hit one more time, I'll probably have to leave because I just can't take it," said a woman who leads a nonprofit organization that helps those recovering from the recent disasters on the Gulf Coast. "And I'm a lifetime resident of New Orleans."
Five years ago this month, the city of New Orleans and the communities of the Gulf Coast were hammered by Hurricane Katrina. I was fortunate enough to meet dozens of local officials, businesspeople and community leaders as part of a delegation tasked with finding ways to better prepare the response in case of a new disaster in the region. Their stories of resilience were inspirational, but there is an underlying fragility with some, for they have been through much hardship.
While the BP oil spill has subsided from public consciousness, thousands of working people who earned their living in the fishing and energy business are out of work. The oil from the spill remains and in the event of a hurricane, the toxic residue would befoul coastline for miles with unknown health and environmental consequences. Information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the likelihood of a major hurricane this season is higher than normal.
Currently there are few plans, and fewer resources available to help communities respond in the the eventuality of a hurricane combining with the oil spill.
Hospitals and large businesses told us of how it took them years to receive compensation from insurance companies after suffering tremendous damage in Hurricane Katrina. They could wait for the funds, thousands of others could not. The lasting effect is a loss of tens of thousands of people from Gulf Coast communities. That means lost workers, lost customers and lost tax revenue.
Just as the Gulf Coast was coming back from Katrina, the Great Recession and BP oil spill delivered a double whammy that is severely testing the resilience of New Orleans and those who call the Gulf Coast their home.
Our team, which includes a former Governor and former U.S. Coast Guard Admiral who was responsible for the Gulf Coast, will provide recommendations for the federal government on how to be better prepared to respond the next time Americans on the Gulf Coast face.
Looking out on the city of New Orleans, across the historic buildings of the French Quarter, mighty Mississippi and the sprawling port which moves freight from a dozen states out to the world, it is easy to see why we need New Orleans to thrive again. And to help it avoid preventable disasters.