Hurricane Isaac Path: What We Learned After New Orleans Got Ravaged a Second Time

This piece was co-authored with Roy Alston. 

Isaac conjures up memories of disaster and pain. It has been seven years to the almost to the day since hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the city of New Orleans and many Gulf Coast communities in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, The damage is not nearly the same but the feelings of the people remain. A disaster, no matter its strength, stills destroys homes, separates families, and leaves citizens stranded.

While the lessons of Katrina and Rita and the subsequent changes in planning and preparedness by citizens, non-profit partners, government and industry were on display, the vulnerabilities remain in Hurricane protection as evidenced by the devastation currently in Plaquemines Parish.

“Hurricane Isaac is the benchmark for sustained public investment in infrastructure that works. Isaac also is a call to action for further public investment in vulnerable communities. Public investment is hope for everyday people to achieve dignity and life on their own turns and contribute to their communities. Areas impacted by Hurricane now need hope,” said Roy Alston, a Principal of ValueSpark Capital LLC; a New Orleans based community development finance consulting firm.

While relief and recovery has begun in communities again in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, new questions have arisen after Hurricane Isaac that add to the many still unanswered seven years after Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc on the coast. Several questions remain at the forefront of many citizens' and advocates' minds today. They include: the right to return of citizens to better built homes and neighborhoods, a demand for equity as a public value from all segments of the community, with community assets like health care, transportation, affordable housing, rebuild schools, and job opportunities beyond stagnate waged tourism employment.

With Hurricane Isaac, it is hard not to look at this recent disaster and still feel uneasy. It has been eye opening for me to see persistent administrative obstacles, federal rebuilding dollars dwindling, and unleveraged historical political and policy challenges. This, in the age of national resource scarcity and a rapidly interconnected global economy that leaves the most vulnerable trapped in another vicious storm that can’t be named. 

New Orleans the rest of the Gulf takes center stage again with Hurricane Isaac relief and recovery efforts begin. It reveals the importance of FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, federal/state/local government coordinated effort. We must recognize the achievement of public investment and deficits that remain that impacts America’s Competitiveness and all of its citizens.

My hope is in seven years when we revisit Isaac, Katrina, and Rita, that this region that is full of life, music, history and culture needs will be lifted up as a success story of equity, resilience, poverty reduction, and successful public investment for all of visit and call it home. 

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Elizabeth Friedrich

I work as a program associate at the Federation for Community Development Credit Unions and a consultant with ValueSpark Capital, a social venture fund based in New Orleans.

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