MELISSA BLOCK host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Melissa Block in Washington, D.C.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And In New Orleans, I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
New Orleans is the engine of the state's economy and rebuilding the Crescent City is a massive and complex task. Only a fraction of the city's 16,000 businesses are fully up and running and 80 percent of the city's housing was damaged. As many as 50,000 homes might have to be demolished.
The state's been promised more than 10 billion dollars in recovery assistance from the White House, but Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says the state needs much more help.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a bipartisan congressional delegation arrived today. They're on a three-day look-see in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. That's welcome news for Governor Blanco. We sat down with her in New Orleans this week. She said lawmakers in Washington can't fully understand her state's needs until they see the devastation for themselves.
Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Louisiana): It's really frightening when you start in, you know, one of the neighborhoods, any neighborhood and house after house after house after house after house, and it goes on for block after block after block and mile after mile after mile of places that once had the laughter of children and parents who were working and struggling and, you know, living life and laughing and crying and, you know, just taking care of business.
And now, their homes are empty and gutted, if they're lucky, or totally gone. You know there's life that's been stilled. And when you have that experience, the magnitude of it is what moves the heart and the mind. And then they understand the reason for the big ask, the big amount of money that it takes to make up the difference.
NORRIS: I'd like to ask you about the levees. There's no plan right now to rebuild the levees to withstand a level five hurricane. Why not, especially after the city got socked?
Governor BLANCO: It's called money. It's called lots and lots of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Corps of Engineers has gotten approval to stand the levees back up to a category three. It has come to our attention that: one, the existing levees, in many cases, and in many places, were not even at what we would call category three protection. It's also been noted that when the hurricane came into the city, it was not even a category three. It was sort of hovering between two and three, I think, at that point in time. That just means that the winds were slowed down, but the Corps of Engineers needs to be authorized to do the right kinds of studies to build the levees stronger.
NORRIS: That's, you're talking long-term investment.
Governor BLANCO: Exactly.
NORRIS: But in the short run, when you're asking residents and businesses to come back, I'm wondering if the building is getting ahead of the levees there. You're asking residents to come back when you can't insure that they're not in harms way, when hurricane season starts in just three months from now.
Governor BLANCO: Well, that's true. Nobody can ensure anybody of their ultimate safety anywhere in this world because things happen and we have to count on the Federal Government to keep up safe. They build dams, they build bridges and they build levees. So we are looking to the Corps of Engineers to help reassure our people and to rebuild a safer environment than the one that we were living in.
NORRIS: You are an optimist, I understand, by nature. It's also your job to be optimistic, to keep people here pumped up, even when they're going through such a difficult time. But at the end of the day, when you are in your private space and you take off your official hat and you're in your own home in your own private space, what haunts you at night? What keeps you up?
Governor BLANCO: Well at the end of the day, I really have to turn my entire day's work and my next day's work over to the Lord. I talk to God and just say that, you know, only you, Lord, know where this next move has to be made, how we can actually make all of this happen. I think that God has erased our world. Not all of it was beautiful, but He's given us another chance to correct the problems that we were confronted with. And shame on us if we don't do it right this time.
NORRIS: Governor Blanco, thanks so much for talking to us.
Governor BLANCO: Thank you.
NORRIS: Kathleen Blanco is Governor of Louisiana.
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