Katrina & Beyond

Nagin Briefs Evacuees on New Orleans Progress

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Sunday in Houston, many Katrina evacuees heard New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin talk about rebuilding efforts back home. Ed Mayberry of member station KUHF tells Debbie Elliott what the mayor had to say.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin traveled to Houston today for a town hall meeting to update displaced New Orleanians on recovery efforts back home and make a plea for them to return. Nearly 20,000 people took shelter in the Texas city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Reporter Ed Mayberry of member station KUHF in Houston attended the meeting and joins us now from the Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

Hi, Ed.

ED MAYBERRY reporting:

Good to be with you.

ELLIOTT: What's the scene there? Was there a big turnout? How did people know that Mayor Nagin was coming to talk to them?

MAYBERRY: From other meetings that some of these displaced folks from New Orleans have attended, the word got around that he had been invited to this church by one of the displaced ministers from New Orleans, who's now based at the Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. About 500 people attending and forming lines of about 30 or 40--a couple of lines actually--to ask questions. And the mayor's saying that he's going to stay around until all the answers are given.

ELLIOTT: What did people have to say to him? What were the questions that they had and their concerns?

MAYBERRY: Folks are still concerned about the housing situation more than anything, and he says FEMA is moving slowly. By the way, there were eight to 10 FEMA representatives in the audience taking all this in, too. He's saying folks are dealing with adjusters, as is he, and with the SBA and trying to get their flood insurance situation solved.

ELLIOTT: What did Mayor Nagin have to say about the state of New Orleans?

MAYBERRY: Well, he says the airport's OK, the port's OK, the water system is improving, the 911 system is back in place. He said schools are still struggling--not many of them open--and debris everywhere that needs to be cleared. He mentioned that New Orleans is about 60 percent recovered as far as power; that means 40 percent still is without power. He says there's no revenue coming into the city. He says actually New Orleans is pretty much a broke city. It depended on tourism, and now there are no tourists. He was trying to stress the positive; there's free bus service. He tried to enumerate the challenges. The number-one challenge? The levees, getting those fixed.

ELLIOTT: Given the situation in New Orleans, how is he trying to portray to folks that it's a good thing that they come back home?

MAYBERRY: I think he's appealing to the pride of those people who were displaced. He said, `This is an opportunity to rewrite the books on education, on the way public housing is built, on the way zoning is laid out,' etc. You know, he's sort of, on one hand, saying, `Yeah, we got lots of problems, but folks do need to return to their city. There are opportunities.' He gave one example of Burger King giving $6,000 signing bonuses, and they're paying eight to $10 an hour rather than minimum wage. So he says business is embracing the rebuilding, and folks, as soon as they can, need to come back and try to rebuild their lives.

ELLIOTT: Reporter Ed Mayberry of member station KUHF in Houston, thank you.

MAYBERRY: Thank you.

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