FEMA Abruptly Abandons Long-Term Recovery Office In New Orleans

On September 15, President Bush stood in downtown New Orleans and pledged, “Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.”

Today, nearly eight months later, “Housing remains in very short supply, only a handful of public schools have reopened and many neighborhoods resemble ghost towns.” But according to WWL-TV, FEMA is choosing to abandon New Orleans anyway:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency office charged with helping New Orleans devise a blueprint to rebuild destroyed houses, schools and neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina is being closed and nearly all its workers reassigned. …

FEMA says it’s closing the long-term recovery office because local officials have failed to begin planning the recovery adequately. …


City officials are angered by the move, saying New Orleans is again being abandoned by the federal government. “We can’t plan on a paper napkin,” said New Orleans Deputy Mayor Greg Meffert.

Two points emphasizing just how outrageous this move is:

1) FEMA was partly responsible for the delays in developing city plans. FEMA says it is leaving because it’s tired of waiting for a plan from city officials. But “[o]ne major hold-up was the late release of FEMA’s flood elevation advisories,” WWL reports, “which offer guidelines on how high homeowners should raise their homes to qualify for flood insurance.” The advisories were issued last week, months late.

2) FEMA had promised to fund city planning efforts. New Orleans officials say they need federal help to pay for the planning efforts, and the former director of the FEMA’s recovery office “made a verbal promise to city officials to fund the effort.” In fact, “[s]everal employees of the disbanded office agreed [that the city needs federal assistance], saying that at the beginning the office worked closely with city officials, helping implement their plans.” Now that promise has been broken.