Some Katrina Survivors Still Waiting For Assistance

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Relief efforts continue more than three years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. For an update on the situation in the Big Easy, lifelong resident and Hurricane Katrina survivor Gralen Banks tells how he's faring.


I'm Cheryl Corley and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. It's been three and a half years since Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans. Since then the city has tried to make a comeback as it fights an ever-present problem with crime and some political corruption. We'll talk with Louisiana Congressman Ahn Joseph Cao in a few moments. He's a Republican in a Democratic district and the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.

But first, we turn to a resident of Congressman Cao's district. From time to time we check in with Gralen Banks to gauge the recovery of the Crescent City. When we first spoke with him, he was living in a FEMA-issued trailer and has since moved into a permanent structure not far from where his pre-Katrina house stood. We were able to catch up with him at his office. Gralen, welcome back to the program.

Mr. GRALEN BANKS: Cheryl, thank you so much for having me back.

CORLEY: Give us an update. How are things looking now in your neighborhood?

Mr. BANKS: Oh, the neighbor's good. You know, it's slowly but surely getting back to the new normal here in New Orleans. But folks trying their best in the midst of everything to build their lives back, but, you know, everybody knows it's marathon and not a sprint. So we'll be here for awhile.

CORLEY: You say the new normal. What do you mean?

Mr. BANKS: The first casualty of Katrina was normal. So, everything subsequent to her is the new normal. We are trying to get back to what we know and love as New Orleans, but doing that with the recognition that what we knew is no longer there and what we are trying to get to know is the new normal.

CORLEY: So what are some the hurdles still facing the city?

Mr. BANKS: The normal urban hurdles, crime. We've got what is perceived by lot of folks as a slow pace of recovery. I'm not one of those schools because I do realize that, once again, this is the long-term deal that we are trying to face every day. But when you add in the normal stresses that go along with the economy, politics and everything else, and when you stir in the crime that is a staple here in New Orleans, it is a little bit daunting at times, but, you know, it's a good fight that's going to be fought.

CORLEY: You know, in just a moment we're going to have a conversation with your congressman, Congressman Cao.

Mr. BANKS: Yes.

CORLEY: And some residents have criticized him in recent weeks because of his vote on the president's stimulus package. And I was wondering if you've talked with your neighbors or what your thoughts are about how the congressman has performed in the first few weeks of the legislative session.

Mr. BANKS: You know, let's face it, the congressman is a star right now. And he is being held forth as one of the new faces of the Republican Party being the first Vietnamese-American congressman that was duly elected to his position. But Congressman Cao's district is a predominantly Democratic district and a predominantly black district.

And it's pretty clear that the majority of his constituents were not happy with the direction of his vote which played more to politics and walking the party line rather than reflecting the feelings of the people who you were elected, supposedly, to represent.

CORLEY: Well, this is a beginning of the congressional session. Congressman Cao isn't up for election for nearly another two years. Will he be able to regain the confidence, you think, of you and other constituents?

Mr. BANKS: That's a very good question. Congressman Cao made a political decision to vote against the stimulus that is so badly needed and has been badly needed, not just as election of President Obama, but since Katrina and the breaching of the levees. The government built levees that caused the devastation of our city. In a congressional speed, I mean, you are in a perpetual state of reelection. It's only a two-year term.

You do one year and then you spend the second year trying to convince folks to send you back for a third year. But I do not know if he's going to able to come back from this one. I'm hoping he'll have other chances to reflect more accurately the feelings of the people in his district, but if he does not, I mean, again, it was a political decision that he made and the consequences thereof are going to be his to bear, good or bad.

CORLEY: Sounds like you'll be keeping a close watch.

Mr. BANKS: Oh, we will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BANKS: We will. We always do. It's the second - well, actually, it's just only if they're doing so good, it's third favorite sport here in south Louisiana.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BANKS: The Saints football, New Orleans Hornets basketball and politics -not necessarily in that order.

CORLEY: Gralen Banks is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, and he joined us from his office in New Orleans. Mr. Banks, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. BANKS: Cheryl, it's always a pleasure. You guys take care.

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Katrina Survivor Describes 'New Normal'

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Gralen Banks outside FEMA trailer i

Gralen Banks stands outside his FEMA-issued trailer. It sits in the driveway of his house in the 13th Ward of New Orleans. Courtesy of Gralen Banks hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Gralen Banks
Gralen Banks outside FEMA trailer

Gralen Banks stands outside his FEMA-issued trailer. It sits in the driveway of his house in the 13th Ward of New Orleans.

Courtesy of Gralen Banks
Inside the Banks home

The Banks home still awaits repairs after Hurricane Katrina inflicted severe water damage two years ago. Courtesy of Gralen Banks hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Gralen Banks
FEMA trailers

Two FEMA trailers, including the one where the Banks family lives (right), are parked between homes in the 13th Ward of New Orleans. Courtesy of Gralen Banks hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Gralen Banks

Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina changed the lives of Gulf Coast residents forever. Fourth generation New Orleanean Gralen Banks is no exception. His home on Loyola Avenue, in the city's 13th Ward, was ravaged by the storm. He now resides in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer, parked outside his house. It sits on what once was his driveway.

"I'm in a trailer, a lovely government-issued mobile condominium," Banks says. "I could complain, but I won't."

Six steps take Banks from one end of his trailer to the other — front to back. He admits that it's a tight space for him, his wife, his daughter and a grandchild, but they make it work.

"You adapt or you die," Banks says.

Others living in FEMA trailers are grouped into larger communities, also known as FEMA trailer parks. The Bankses, parked outside their house, consider themselves fortunate.

They are able to keep an eye on the house, which Banks calls his "shotgun double." It remains gutted and waiting for repair. In the two years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, only the roof has been replaced. Banks says the cost of rebuilding supplies has been astronomical.

"Everything that we do is affected by Katrina and the flood — from buying a gallon of milk to buying a truckload of sheetrock," he says

Still, he says, for now, they choose to stay put.

"I'd rather be in a FEMA trailer in New Orleans than in a penthouse anywhere else," Banks says.

Hear the full interview by clicking the "Listen" button in the upper left corner of this page.

Written and produced for the Web by Lee Hill.



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