In rebuilding after Katrina, it’s the same corrupt story

By LeiLani Dowell

A House of Representatives report released on May 4 reveals that contractors working on recovery efforts after Hurri cane Katrina have been overpaid by the government for their services through over stated mileage claims, duplicate bills for the same service, mixing toxic with non-toxic debris to inflate the cost of removing it, and layer upon layer of subcontractors that increase fees.

In one example, the Army Corps of Engineers allowed contracts totaling more than $300 million for roof repairs using cheap blue plastic sheeting.

While these businesses have been raking in recovery money, however, it’s another story when it comes to the workers. The Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance reports that it has had to fight to reclaim $500,000 in back wages for workers in the Gulf region who had not been paid by contractors and subcontractors. Thousands of these workers pro tested in New Orleans on May Day as part of the national immigrant rights rallies.

In New Orleans, a struggle has emerged in a Vietnamese community after city officials decided to place a new landfill less than two miles away to dump debris remaining from the hurricane.

The officials claim they don’t need to install clay liners, used as a safeguard in existing dumps, in the new landfill because debris from demolition is cleaner than other kinds of trash. However, this assessment does not take into account the toxic mold that has emerged on many of the destroyed houses, nor the numerous chemicals that are present in most households—found in bleach, cleaning supplies, gardening products and more. The landfill will take 2.6 million tons of debris left by Hurricane Katrina, and will sit across a canal from the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country. (New York Times, May 8) Since the hurricane, officials have also reopened the Old Gentilly landfill, another unlined dump that was closed in 1986.

Environmental groups caution that official regulations are being disregarded in the creation of the landfill, citing a dump, created under similar conditions in the wake of Hurricane Betsey in 1965, that ended up being a Superfund site. Accor ding to the Environmental Pro tection Agency, Superfund sites are “uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people.”

With the hurricane season just a few weeks away, government officials continue their finger-pointing around Hurri cane Katrina. A Senate panel has recommended the complete dismantling of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, calling for a new agency, the National Preparedness and Response Authority, to be created in its place. This agency, according to the recommendations, would remain under the auspices of Homeland Security.

The bungling of FEMA before, during and after the hurricane, undoubtedly caused an unimaginable amount of suffering to the people of the Gulf region. However, writer and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal points out that the Senate panel’s recommendation not only ignores the role of all levels of government in the catastrophe, but also does nothing to end the suffering nor prevent further fiascoes from occurring.

“To abolish an agency, just for the political sake of abolishing it,” Abu-Jamal writes, “is but to abolish its memory. At bottom is the conservative antipathy for the very notion of a government designed to help peo ple, especially those most in need. The ideologues of ‘limited government’ recognize only the role of the state in social repres sion of the poor and the powerless. When the state is called to serve, it will always encounter resistance from those quarters....

“To lay all of this on FEMA is but the latest political diversion. The Hurricane Katrina disaster exposed serious and continuing problems in American society. To abolish FEMA does nothing to begin to solve them.”


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