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John Edwards on Responding to Hurricane Katrina Victims One Year Later

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John Edwards on Responding to Hurricane Katrina Victims One Year Later

Photo of John Edwards, Courtesy of One America Committee

Updated August 27, 2006
The following are the eloquent words of John Edwards, former US senator and now Director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina.

Hurricane Karrina Victims One Year Later

Nearly a year has passed since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, killing more than 1,400 of our fellow Americans and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Who could possibly forget the images from that awful week?

People stranded on rooftops. Chaos at the Superdome. The desperate anguish of those unable to escape, simply because they didn't have a car or the cash to evacuate, or because they didn't want to leave behind the few meager possessions they had.

I know that I can never forget the faces and stories of the people I met when I toured evacuation shelters in Baton Rouge shortly after Katrina hit.

Hurricane Katrina didn't just blow away lives and dreams, it blew away the shroud that was hiding the invisible poor and, for the moment, put home grown poverty in the epicenter of the national consciousness. It was a horrifying wake-up call.

How could this happen right here in our own country?

To be sure, this disaster also brought out the best in America.

Good neighbors all over the country opened their hearts, their homes and their wallets to people they'd never met. Many gave their precious time to bring comfort and relief to those who suffered in this disaster.

I saw it with my own eyes; it was inspirational and my spirits soared when I joined 700 college students who gave up their Spring Break last March to help dozens of families devastated by Katrina clean up their homes in St. Bernard Parish.

Individual Americans reached out to help one another. But individuals eventually have to get back to their lives.

Pace of recovery is agonizingly slow

In recent months it has become increasingly clear that, a full year after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the pace of recovery is agonizingly slow. People continue to hurt in a big way.

Despite all the official promises about "doing what it takes" to get New Orleans back on its feet, much of the city still looks as if the hurricane hit yesterday.

Thousands upon thousands of homes remain deserted, windowless and covered with flood grime in desolate neighborhoods.

The water and sewer systems are still in terrible shape.

Fewer than half of the city's hospitals have reopened, and there are not nearly enough health clinics to adequately serve all the low-income families who need care.

Vast areas are still littered with mangled cars and piles of debris.

Schools Turning Away Children

Last week, the news media reported that New Orleans schools are turning children away because there just isn't enough room for them as the educational system struggles to recover.

"It's hurting to your heart when a child says 'Mama, I want to go to school,' and you can't find one," one resident was quoted as saying.

To hear of a child being turned away from a school is disturbing enough. But how do we even contemplate the notion of a new and better New Orleans without there being a decent educational system to lead the way?

Just as Katrina's wrath exposed the two Americas in our midst, the sluggish road to recovery serves as a reminder to us about the everyday challenges faced by the underprivileged in our society -- not just in the Gulf Coast but in impoverished neighborhoods and communities across the country.

The lesson is that the fight against poverty is an ongoing one -- for government, for communities, for all of us.

I know you join me in demanding accountability and pressing government leaders to do what's necessary to get hurricane-ravaged areas back on their feet.

Joining together with the beleaguered residents of the Gulf Coast, something good can come out of this tragedy. The resurrection of the Gulf Coast can herald the rebirth of a core American value that we are all one nation, moving forward together -- and that no one shall be left behind.

For the moment, in their hours of desperation, I ask that you continue to keep Hurricane Katrina's many victims foremost in your thoughts, remember their plight, and offer what you can to help and comfort them.

And let us continue to work together to ensure that America fully responds to the wake-up call delivered on Katrina's winds one year ago.

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