Gulf Coast Update

Bodies still being found

Six months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, bodies are still being pulled from wrecked and rotting homes. Firefighters in hard hats with cadaver dogs found the latest victim on March 6 in a Lower 9th Ward house that had been inspected months ago.

The official door-to-door search of New Orleans ended on Oct. 3 with a death toll of 972. Since then, 131 more bodies have been found. Thousands of people are still missing. The Corps of Engineers said as many as 400 victims could still be buried beneath all of the rubble.

But bulldozers moved into the Lower 9th Ward on March 6, which angered some residents. Tracy Washington, an activist against the demolition said, “What is the rush? There is not to be any demolition in this area right now. If they continue, they will be in direct violation of a court order.”



Bush, lies and videotape

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, U.S. disaster officials warned President George W. Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush did not ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck Aug. 29, but he assured state officials: “We are fully prepared.”

The footage shows in excruciating detail that federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. Yet Bush declared four days after the storm, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”



Immigrant workers win back pay

Lured by contractors promising jobs and good wages, Gulf Coast reconstruction has brought thousands of immigrant workers to the area.

But the promises rang hollow. Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, a Jackson-based immigrant rights group, talked with several thousand workers and reported, “There is not one that does not have a story of abuse, injury or homelessness.” MIRA filed hundreds of complaints, helping to recover $220,000 for workers to date, including $141,800 for 120 workers cheated out of pay by a Halliburton subcontractor.



Act to extend jobless benefits

140,000 workers left unemployed by Hurricane Katrina started running out of federal jobless benefits on March 4. The Senate unanimously passed a bill, the Katrina Emergency Assistance Act, that would extend those benefits by 13 weeks. The House of Representatives needs to do the same. Help Katrina survivors today by writing your representative and asking him or her to support S 1777, the Katrina Emergency Assistance Act.

— Terrie Albano