Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rushing them back into the Big Easy

NOLA Mayor Nagin is in a big toot to begin the process of bringing his city “back to life.” He’s professed the desire to have jazz back in the streets as opposed to helicopters in the air, and in the effort is looking to have nearly 200,000 returnees (as opposed to evacuees) in the next couple of weeks.

It is an admirable effort to bring the city back to life. And there are several reasons it is important. Could it be that the longer people stay in Houston, Dallas and elsewhere, the less likely they are to want to return? As reflected in this AP story:

Forty-three percent said they want to move back home when they can. About the same number of evacuees -- 44 percent -- said they want to permanently relocate, and most of them wanted to stay in Houston, said the poll published Friday.

It is probably important to keep people believing in the prospect that New Orleans will be ready for them soon, before they start making more permanent plans where they now sleep.

But not everyone thinks New Orleans is ready for the return.

The mayor of New Orleans has set up an "extremely problematic" timeline for allowing residents to return to the evacuated city, which is still threatened by a weakened levee system, a lack of drinkable water and heavily polluted floodwaters, the head of the federal relief effort said Saturday.

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen said federal officials have worked with Mayor Ray Nagin and support his vision for repopulating the city, but he called Nagin's idea to return up to 180,000 people to New Orleans in the next week both "extremely ambitious" and "extremely problematic."

Remember not long ago, New Orleans was a city with toxic water and death at every corner, with broken levees, and almost half of hurricane season left.

Bringing the people back to New Orleans is good, if the city is ready, and the motivation isn’t political. There’s been an awful lot of “political” things flying there in the days and weeks after Katrina’s winds faded.

Delay in getting people out of New Orleans was a bad thing. But delay in bringing them back might not be so bad.