The Mardi Gras Index

The State of New Orleans by Numbers Six Months After Hurricane Katrina
A Special Report by Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch
Southern Exposure (Vol. 34, No. 1 & 2)
February/March 2006

It's been six months since Hurricane Katrina hit, and all eyes are on New Orleans as it celebrates Mardi Gras. But how is the city doing?

Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch -- the Institute's special post-Katrina investigative project -- has released a new 36-page report analyzing indicators from housing to jobs, public health and hurricane preparedness. Here's our conclusion:

    "Despite promises from national leaders to "do what it takes" to rebuild New Orleans, the devastated city has been mostly left to fend for itself -- with tragic results," says Chris Kromm, co-author of the report and director of the Institute. "Without a bold, national commitment, the city won't come back."

"MARDI GRAS INDEX" FINDS REBUILDING STALLED IN NEW ORLEANS

Six months after Katrina, report says key issues demand national attention to bring city back

DURHAM, N.C. -- As New Orleans residents celebrate Mardi Gras today -- six months after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina -- the city has made little progress in rebuilding and won't be revived unless national leaders confront "fundamental barriers" to renewal.

That's the finding of "The Mardi Gras Index," a new report by the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies based in Durham, N.C. The Index analyzes the city's post-hurricane status in 11 areas including housing, public health, the economy and disaster preparedness.

"Despite promises from national leaders to "do what it takes" to rebuild New Orleans, the devastated city has been mostly left to fend for itself -- with tragic results," says Chris Kromm, co-author of the report and director of the Institute. "Without a bold, national commitment, the city won't come back."

The Institute report looks at over 130 indicators, and finds that, despite a few hopeful signs, progress has largely stalled on the key issues that will shape the city's future. For example:

  • Lack of HOUSING is preventing many from returning to New Orleans. No action is being taken to help renters, two-thirds of those displaced by the storm; many home-owners remain in limbo; and 11,000 FEMA trailers sit empty in Hope, Arkansas.
  • HEALTH AND SAFETY concerns are keeping residents away -- from rampant mold, to pollution "hot spots" such as four city neighborhoods with 100 times accepted safe levels of arsenic. Regulators have offered no clean-up plan -- creating a public health threat compounded by the city's gutted health care system.
  • A dearth of SCHOOLS --only 17 percent of the city's public schools have re-opened -- will stop many families from returning.
  • The absence of progress in HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS is troubling. With just three months remaining until the 2006 hurricane season, there is no funding for full- scale wetland restoration or levees that could survive a hurricane the strength of Katrina (Category 3) or more.

The 36-page report also finds that those hurt most by the nation's failure to help rebuild New Orleans are the same people who suffered most from the storms of 2005.

"The people left behind in the evacuation of New Orleans after Katrina are the same people left behind in rebuilding of New Orleans -- the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and children, mostly African-American," says Prof. William Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.

"There is not a sign outside of New Orleans saying, 'If you are poor, sick, elderly, disabled, a child or African-American, you cannot return.' But there might as well be," adds Quigley, who is also an advisor to Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch.

The report is a part of the Institute's Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch project, launched in November 2005 to document and investigate the rebuilding of the Southern Gulf in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Founded in 1970, the Institute is a non- profit research and education center, and publisher of the award-winning Southern Exposure magazine.

Contents:

  • 3 Introduction
  • 4 People Make the City: Demographics
  • 6 Brick by Brick: Infrastructure
  • 8 Search for Shelter: Housing
  • 10 Making a Living: Economy
  • 12 A Safe City? Health and Environment
  • 14 School Squeeze: Education
  • 16 Follow the Money: Contracting
  • 18 Law and Order: Justice System
  • 20 Who Can Vote? Democracy
  • 22 The City's Soul: Culture
  • 24 The Next Storm: Hurricane Readiness
  • 26 Sources
  • 28 Essay: Six Months After Katrina
  • 33 About Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch
Volume and Number: 
Vol. 34, No. 1 & 2

Since 1973 Southern Exposure has gained critical praise for its thorough investigations, unsentimental portraits of Southern life, and public interest reporting. Click here to subscribe.