Oct - Dec 2005, Other

Rebuilding New Orleans

By Cara Karema Harpole

November 17, 2005

Asalaam alaikum,

Recent update:

FEMA has decided to discontinue its payment of (Katrina victims) residents living in hotels in the Houston area on December 1st. There are now 19,000 New Orleans residents living in hotels.

Because of FEMA’s non-payment to apartments who had initially accepted the vouchers, many complexes are refusing FEMA vouchers regardless of their previous policies. One complex is suing FEMA for payment after nearly three months of waiting. Residents (Muslims) in the Dallas area are continuing to move into Houston when they get word of the voucher program. Although things have settled down from the initial crisis, a new crisis is waiting to happen if something isn’t done about this new development.

Surprisingly, many Muslims have returned to New Orleans. They are mainly heads of households with jobs starting back up again, as well as taxi drivers. I have been told that taxi drivers have an opportunity to drive commercial vehicles needed in the restoration process in New Orleans. There is a desperate need for more workers in the city of New Orleans for the rebuilding process.

Finding housing in New Orleans is a daunting challenge. Most Muslims who have returned to the city live in areas outside of the main metro area: Gretna, Algiers, Metairie, Kenner, Baton Rouge (1.5 hours away), and St Tammany Parish. Those wanting to return face so many dilemmas. Another challenge is getting electricity to start the rebuilding process. FEMA is offering trailers, but what good is a trailer without electricity?

Many issues are taking very long to resolve. Simple as it may seem, our only electric company has threaten filing for bankruptcy, so they are not in a hurry to use replenished resources to restore power in a great part of New Orleans. Again, without electricity, people can only work until certain times of the day.

Believe it or not, the curfew is still in place. One man was arrested because he was sitting on his porch during the curfew period. There are some stories of mistreatment by Muslims who stayed behind. One brother was arrested and left in deplorable conditions while in custody. His only crime was protecting his home from looters (some of them being police and military).

Some parts of the city have only recently been open to residents, namely the ninth ward. Although the official search and rescue mission has long abated, residents are now returning to their homes to find dead bodies (over 100 noted in the last few days). The lucky ones actually found their homes, and the bodies of their dead relative. Others cannot find their homes period!

It would be nice to see more involvement from the Muslim community in New Orleans with the relief effort. The Jewish Community Center was the heart of the Disaster Research Center (DRC) operation in Uptown New Orleans. Red Cross used a local middle school for distribution of baby supplies personal hygiene, food, cleaning supplies etcâ€Â Masjid Bilal, a very small Masjid, operated a small medial clinic. Masjid Raheem served as a temporary shelter during the storm, but to my knowledge is now closed.

Some Muslim organizations in New Orleans have large parcels of land. The Muslim community would greatly benefit from establishing a temporary trailer community for those whom need to return to New Orleans, but do not have a place to stay or resources to pay for extended stay.

The following proposed locations are only my thoughts and ideas.

Kenner on 25th Street land
This community is bouncing back and was not hit as hard as Metro New Orleans.

West Bank
Masjid Al Tawbah’s vacant land.

Private land
St Claude (not suitable for families at this location).

Other Private land
Land on private property is limited if not zoned for commercial use.

Individuals can order a FEMA trailer, which takes about five minutes from a DRC location in New Orleans. The trailer is equipped to handle electricity, water, etc. FEMA told me that this process takes about three weeks. Renters cannot order trailers, homeowners can, I know some renters who have ordered trailers to be placed on relatives’ property.

A Trailer Camp on Muslim-owned land can add a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood and safety for those with families who fear bringing their families to the area. What are the choices for those with large families who want to return to the city but have no other resources available to stay at hotels? Many families desperately need to return to recover important documents left in their attics or on first floors.

My neighbor told me over the phone not to expect to salvage anything left on the first floor. I honestly thought she was exaggerating. I originally planned to take a van on this trip. Sadly, I found out she was right. The water damage was shocking.

Wood from my floor was plucked from the ground like daisies in a field. All the wood buckled. Some rooms were so full of debris making it almost impossible to access. The smell was unbelievable. I wore a mask the entire time not only because of the smell, but also for protection against potential mold.

Mold has been a big factor at my home as far as home damage. All residents must gut their homes due to potential future mold damage. The structure has to also be treated once gutted.

The yard of my home looks completely dead. I once had many fruit trees.