In the immediate wake of Katrina, the focus has been by necessity on evacuation, food, water, medical care and emergency shelter.
But what is the plan for long-term housing for the 500,000 to 1 million people displaced by the hurricane? The people of the Gulf Coast have been widely scattered, some hundreds of miles away.
Congress needs to begin thinking now about jobs and income. A labor force of at least 100,000 among the displaced seems to be available. They will need work and ought to find it in helping to restore their own devastated communities. From what I've seen, general laborers will have no shortage of tasks: hauling debris, cleaning and sanitizing, draining water to prevent disease, and guarding abandoned properties. The infrastructure repairs needed also are enormous: roads, water, electric power, short-term housing. The need for ecological reconstruction will be vast too: the marshes; the barrier islands; the rivers; flood control.
I doubt enough trained crews are available to do such repairs in a reasonable time. Therefore, reconstruction could offer training opportunities for the able but unskilled of the region. We could prepare people to help in future emergencies and on projects to prepare for storms.
Congress should think along the lines of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the New Deal of the 1930s. This approach would not only help heal the grievous wounds Katrina inflicted but also would begin to repair the vast fault lines revealed in our society.
WILLIAM R. NEIL
The slow response to the Katrina disaster was inexcusable. My team and I were involved in the tsunami relief effort in Thailand at the beginning of January, and it was more efficient than what we are experiencing on the Gulf Coast.
The government, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army should have planned better. Communication between the local and federal governments broke down, and large relief organizations were not present for days. If news crews can get to the hurricane-devastated areas, why couldn't others?
When the levees broke, we should have dispatched the National Guard to secure the area and the Coast Guard to rescue those stranded. Once areas were secured and displaced people knew that help was coming, organizations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army should have mobilized volunteers to distribute food, water and medicine. Shelters should have been set up in safe areas to accommodate the inevitable influx of displaced people.
In Thailand, the Royal Thai Army arrived immediately after the tsunami disaster, and the Thai Ministry of Public Health responded quickly, too. The sick were transferred rapidly to hospitals in Bangkok.
Maybe the United States could learn from the Thais.
The writer is president and founder of Smile on Wings, a nonprofit group that provides dental care to remote Thai villages.
I read with interest Ceci Connolly's Sept. 6 news story about health issues related to Hurricane Katrina. I am a registered nurse with public health, medical, surgical and intensive-care experience who is interested in volunteering to help hurricane victims. On Aug. 30, I sought out the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site and clicked "donate or volunteer," but all I discovered was a list of organizations. I checked out a couple of the links, including the American Red Cross, and all I found was information on how to send money.
Next I called the Red Cross and was told to check with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which I did. After slogging through more "send money" information on that Web site, I learned that medical volunteers were needed, so I promptly completed the long online application. In fact, I completed the form eight times over the next six days because each time I hit the "submit" button, I got a database error message. I tried to alert the agency to the fact that its computer system was down but there was no e-mail contact information.
On Sept. 7, nine days after the hurricane hit, with online submissions still not working, I was able to get on the medical volunteer list only by directly calling the department. I told the person answering the phone about the computer problem. He said that he was completing volunteer forms on paper.
As of this morning, Sept. 9, I have not been called on to help, yet the agency's Web site states that volunteer nurses are still needed. No wonder! I have heard on local radio that FEMA is offering as much as $500 a week to nurses to go to the Gulf Coast. The system is really broken when trained medical professionals who are willing to work for free are being turned away while people die of infection from alligator bites. In addition, FEMA now links to more than 30 Web sites so that people can find their loved ones, yet the American Red Cross, which finally has put up a missing-persons list, is not on FEMA's reference list.
Things are really a mess when people die of thirst and can't find loved ones for weeks, yet disaster preparedness funds are squandered writing a national response plan that doesn't work.
MARIE K. FALCON