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High Post Hurricane Rents Push People Out Of New Orleans

AFP File image of houses being destroyed by flood waters from Katrina
by Mira Oberman
New Orleans LO (AFP) Feb 28, 2006
With her silver beaded tarot card table, Leah DeLeon has become a familiar face in New Orleans's Jackson Square.But when the faithful walk out of St. Louis Cathedral with ash on their foreheads Wednesday, DeLeon will take it as a sign that it's time to get ready to leave the city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

It's a pity, she says, because business is finally starting to pick up.

While the Mardi Gras crowds were thin, a sense of life had finally come back to the French Quarter. With all the publicity from the parades and the Jazz Festival coming up, the tourism industry was bound to improve.

But once the Federal Emergency Management Agency stops paying for her hotel room on March 15, DeLeon won't have anywhere to live.

She's been approved for a trailer, but the city still hadn't figured out where to put it. While there are some apartments available in areas which escaped the floodwaters, landlords are charging astronomical rent.

"I love New Orleans," she said. "It's a great place to live if you can afford it."

DeLeon had a three bedroom house in Jefferson Parish, across the river from New Orleans. She had been making enough money with her tarot cards to treat herself to 150 dollars an hour flight lessons in the hopes of becoming an instructor.

When she left the day before the storm -- packed into her daughter's car with her teenaged sons, roommate, roommate's fiance, a dog and nine cats in a laundry bag -- she figured she would be home in a few days.

A month later, she returned from North Carolina to a house filled with mud and emptied by looters.

"They took all the (bottled) water. God bless them, that's survival. But they took the TV, the PlayStation. That was sad."

She stayed for a couple days to meet with a government inspector and salvage what she could. Most of her things ended up on the side of the road.

Then she went back to her daughter, who was glad of the company because her husband had just been deployed to Iraq.

In October, DeLeon brought her sons back. She set up her table in Jackson Square to tempt the contractors who came to rebuild the city and took a second job as a parking attendant.

Things were hard, but she was optimistic. Until she heard what the government thought the contents of her home were worth.

"Some people got 10,000 dollars, 17,000 dollars," she said. "They inspected me and gave me 1,248 dollars. They paid me for a couch and a fridge."

Her youngest son became depressed, so she sent the boys back to North Carolina so they could go to school and get some counseling.

She worked. And she waited. And she hoped things would get better. But they haven't.

A scathing Congress report last week said that "bureaucratic inertia" during Hurricane Katrina caused unnecessary deaths.

The House of Representatives report said the fault went from President George W. Bush downwards over the "dismal" response to the August 29 storm that killed more than 1,300 people and destroyed 300,000 homes as it thrashed the New Orleans region.

Bush responded by publishing a report demanding urgent changes to disaster relief plans before the 2006 hurricane season begins and by asking for another nearly 20 billion dollars in additional funding to supplement the more than 87 billion dollars already approved for the reconstruction effort.

Like many still struggling to rebuild their lives, DeLeon says the same bureaucratic bungling that hampered rescue efforts is now smothering the recovery.

She's now waiting for her fourth inspection from the Federal Emergency Management Agency so she can get compensation for all the clothes, furniture and other household items she lost to the storm.

"That's what all the billions and billions of dollars was for and I just wanted a tiny bit," she said.

And she wouldn't have to leave at all if the city had managed to find a spot to put the tens of thousands of trailers that FEMA bought for displaced residents.

DeLeon isn't sure what she'll do when she gets to North Carolina, though she knows she'll have to put her tarot cards away.

"I love it, but you can't do it up there in North Carolina. They'll have you committed if you set up a table on the street."

related report
Questions Over Governor Bush Role In Katrina Contracts
Miami (AFP) Feb 28, 2006 - A US lawmaker Tuesday asked Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a brother of the US president, to explain his role in a controversial 236 million dollar contract to house Hurricane Katrina evacuees aboard cruise ships.

Democratic Representative Henry Waxman said the governor facilitated the contacts between Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines and federal authorities that resulted in the contract for the three vessels.

"This boondoggle contract, which comes to an end this week, has cost federal taxpayers an enormous amount to provide temporary six-month housing aboard Carnival's ships," Waxman said in an open letter to Jeb Bush.

He said average occupancy of the ships, docked near New Orleans, was of 4,934, meaning it cost taxpayers "almost 240,000 dollars to provide temporary shelter for a family of five. At this price, the federal government could have built permanent homes for the families," the lawmaker said.

Critics have said the amount would have been more than enough to send the evacuees on a luxury six-month cruise.

Waxman pointed out that under the contract, Carnival would be compensated for the loss of revenues it would have earned from normal cruising, such as casino operations and onboard liquor sales.

Waxman said that e-mails recently provided to Congress show the Florida governor "intervened at a key moment to support the efforts of Carnival to win this lucrative federal contract."

Waxman said Jeb Bush had forwarded an e-mail from a Carnival advertising executive to Michael Brown, who was then the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA.) The note, sent on August 31, two days after the hurricane made landfall, suggested the use of the ships to house Katrina evacuees.

Subsequent e-mails indicate that Bush's intervention "facilitated the award of the contract to Carnival," Waxman said.

The open letter followed sharp criticism of the government's response to the devastation Katrina wrought in New Orleans and along parts of the US Gulf coast.

A scathing Congress report issued earlier this month said that "bureaucratic inertia" caused unnecessary deaths during Katrina, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff admitted the government had been overwhelmed by the disaster.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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White House Demands Whirlwind Changes To Hurricane Response
Washington DC (AFP) Feb 26, 2006
A White House report Thursday demanded urgent changes to disaster relief plans before the 2006 storm season, as President George W. Bush pledged to learn lessons from the Hurricane Katrina debacle. The report probed failures exposed when Katrina roared ashore last August, devastated the US Gulf Coast, and whipped up a floodtide that swamped New Orlean.

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