We will never get out of our minds the picture of then-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert in the wake of Hurricane Katrina asking of New Orleans, “Why would anyone want to rebuild there?” He later apologized but we thought the question marked Hastert as forever an idiot.
Happily, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we have not heard anyone ask of Manhattan or New Jersey, “Why would anyone want to rebuild there?” As we have demonstrated over and over in New Orleans and in South Louisiana, Americans are hard-headed, tough-minded, resilient and, very often, in love with the places they built only to see them destroyed by what are now being called “weather events.” As you can see in Lafitte, Lakeview, the Lower 9th Ward, the Irish Channel, and Uptown New Orleans, we don’t give up easily after weather events. We are people who have a passion about our homes, businesses, places of worship, schools and other landmarks. When Mother Nature tears them down, we want to build them up again.
As the New York Times noted, not a month after Hurricane Sandy, the folks in the Northeast who took her hardest blows are looking to places London, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Tokyo and New Orleans where sea walls, levees, rebuilt wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.
That is as it should be. But we think it should go beyond that. A friend of ours, Denise Thornton, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, came up with a very original and pointed idea – she created an entity called the Beacon of Hope. Denise and other volunteers first worked out of Denise and Doug’s home. Later they set up shop in a trailer on a lot in Lakeview donated to them by a contractor and began helping people rebuild. Did you need the name of a reliable contractor? A plumber? Someone to dig up the stump in your back yard left when Katrina’s winds sheared off the 100-year-old tree? Whatever it was, the Beacon of Hope could help. Allan was one of those who turned to the Beacon of Hope when he decided to rebuild his home in West Lakeview. Today, he says the most important thing that he got from Denise and her volunteers, besides specific answers to his questions, was “optimism, positive thinking and a huge helping of hope.”
Part of Denise’s pitch, which she is taking national, is that in today’s world, no one is immune to disasters. Hurricanes in the Northeast, tornadoes in the Southwest, earthquakes in the Far West . . . the experts can argue over global warming, climate change, etc. but even a fool can tell that something is surely going on with the weather. Anyone who imagines that it can’t happen in their community is indeed a fool. Just ask the folks in New York or New Jersey . . . or visit a neighborhood in New Orleans, Lafitte or Braithwaite.
So what do we do? Denise says we learn from Katrina and Sandy. We plan ahead. We put in place organizations that learned from those disasters and have put together contingency plans to help us weather the next storm. The New York Times says “Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination.” The same was true of Hurricane Katrina, but how were we to know? The lesson is always a lot clearer after the storm has passed when everyone is up to their waist in muck and learning about sheetrock.
Why should anyone rebuild anywhere? Because we are human and because we fall in love with the places where we live our lives. Will there be more hurricanes? Will there be more heartbreak? Will there be other times when we have to rebuild? You know it. But it’s a lot easier when you have a plan in advance of the storm, or a Beacon of Hope.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. Columbus is a paid consultant to the Dana Kaplan campaign, and they both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. Robert Billiot.