New Orleans — The good news is that nearly two million people evacuated and were spared the direct hit of Gustave. Our sisters and brothers in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who were not able to leave the point of the storm, lost over 100 lives. The people of the U.S. were fortunate to be able to leave.
The bad news is that most people have not been allowed to return.
Since the storm, New Orleans and numerous other coastal communities have continued 24-hour curfews and prohibited people from returning by posting law enforcement at all entrances.
Officials argue that neighborhoods are without electricity and return would be challenging due to the presence of downed trees and power lines.
Locking people out is quite a hardship and also very challenging for the hundreds of thousands of displaced working families. As one local resident put it, “I understand that most public officials are saying for us to stay away as a safety aspect, but they do not realize that some of us cannot afford to stay away that long.”
Garland Robinette, a respected radio voice of WWL radio, was also pleading with elected officials on air this afternoon: “What are you going to do about the poor people who can’t afford another hotel room?”
When the average weekly wage for workers in the hotel and restaurant business is less than $400 a week, the least expensive hotel, plus gas and meals for a family since last Saturday or Sunday, can eat up a week’s wages in no time. Additionally, tens of thousands of people have also lost a week of work because most workers are not paid for the time during evacuation. That puts families two weeks of wages behind.
That it why there are widespread reports of families now parked on the side of the highway or in parking lots waiting for permission to come home.
Over 60,000 people are in 300 shelters across the South. Those who came by publicly paid buses will not be allowed to return until perhaps the weekend.
People who cannot come home are now being told to contact the Red Cross and local churches to see if they will provide bed space.
Despite our continuing problems, we are all thankful for the good fortune we have had. We are also grateful for the help of our neighbors, families and friends who have put us up, given us money for gas, and allowed us to shower and use their phones.
Nearly two million people cooperated in the evacuation. New Orleans and other coastal communities reported only a handful of arrests. This has worked really well so far. But unless officials are sensitive to the serious financial crunch that working and poor families are in, the risk is that next time large numbers of people will be less likely to evacuate.