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THIS IS AMERICA - Recovering From a Storm Now Headed for the History Books


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Welcome to This is America in VOA Special English. I'm Shep O'Neal. On August twenty-ninth, Hurricane Katrina struck hard in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Winds, rains and floodwaters tore into the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal Protective Service Police standby while FEMA contract personel prepare to remove a covered corpse in New Orleans
Federal Protective Service Police standby while FEMA contract personel prepare to remove a covered corpse in New Orleans

No one knows yet how many people died in all. New Orleans Mayor Ray estimated that his city alone may have lost ten thousand of its almost five hundred thousand people.

However, officials have just reported that the first organized search for bodies in the city found many fewer than expected.

Now, Bob Doughty and Faith Lapidus continue our report on the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and across America.


At least thirty states have accepted refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Texas took in almost two hundred fifty thousand.

Some people who fled the storm found temporary housing with family or friends. Thousands found refuge in hotels. Or schools. Or sports centers, like the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.

Katrina damaged the Superdome, the main sports center in New Orleans. But it became a temporary shelter for thousands. Many stayed there for days; they had no place else to go. It was hot, crowded and dirty. Conditions became deplorable. There were deaths but the bodies were not removed. Finally, buses came. They took the people to the Astrodome and other shelters.

Survivors of Katrina are in shelters operated by the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other organizations. Religious groups have opened their doors to the homeless. So have private citizens. Hospitals and nursing homes in faraway states have offered to accept some of the sick and injured.



First came Katrina, now comes the political storm. The federal government faces intense criticism and anger over the way it reacted to the hurricane. A major target is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Critics say FEMA waited too long to send help.

Helicopters rescued many people from the floodwaters. But reports told of others who died as they waited for someone to save them. Many people went without food or water in the summer heat.

People had been warned to leave their homes before the hurricane hit land. Some stayed because they had survived other storms. Some were too sick or too old to leave, or had to take care of others. Some did not own automobiles; many of the victims lived in poverty. And some simply would not go.

President Bush called the early efforts by the government unacceptable. He says he will lead an investigation into what went wrong. Congress plans it own investigation. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said "governments at all levels failed."

President Bush last week asked Congress for fifty-two thousand million dollars more for storm aid. That was in addition to the ten and one-half thousand million dollars already approved.


There are charges of racism. Many of the victims were black. In New Orleans, two out of three people are African-American. Some critics say the federal government did not act faster because it did not care about the victims.

Officials say the high water slowed the arrival of help. Yet that was not the only danger for rescue workers.

In New Orleans, when flood controls failed, so did law and order. People entered stores to find food, drinking water and diapers for babies. But people also stole things like televisions and guns. Anarchy spread in the streets.

Armed troops helped police suppress the lawlessness. Some of the soldiers compared the situation to what they had experienced in Iraq.


Tens of thousands of National Guard and other military service members are involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.

Repair crews have worked hard in their efforts to return electric power to homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast. Workers have also restarted oil and natural-gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

American drivers quickly saw the effects of Katrina on fuel prices, which were already high. Now, there are worries about prices for home heating fuel this winter.

The storm could reduce American economic growth by as much as a full percentage point for the remainder of the year. That was the estimate last week by the Congressional Budget Office. Economists there say four hundred thousand jobs may be lost. But they say the economic damage should not cause a recession.



Games of chance were lucky for people in Biloxi, Mississippi. The local economy depends on them. Now, because of the storm, Biloxi has lost most of its casinos. The workers are out of jobs, though some other businesses in the city are open again.

The community of Bayou Le Batre, in Alabama, has about two thousand five hundred people. They depend heavily on the seafood industry. But a lot of boats were blown onto land. Some of the owners do not have enough money for repairs. They might have to join other fishermen along the Gulf Coast who have declared the season a loss.


After Katrina hit, there was no lack of heroes. Helicopter crews from the Coast Guard made rescue after rescue in dangerous conditions. They pulled people out of floodwaters and off rooftops. There were stories of emergency workers who stayed on the job even as they worried about their own families. And the list goes on.

There are efforts across the nation to collect money for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Two former presidents, the first George Bush and Bill Clinton, will lead a private campaign. They led a similar effort after the earthquake and tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean last December. Countries that received American aid are now among the nations that have offered assistance.


The Internet has served as a way for people to give money. But it has also helped meet other important needs. Web sites have reunited people separated by the storm.

And the Internet has also provided a way for many storm refugees to stay informed of local news. The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans had to suspend printing, but it could still publish on its Web site. Which made sense, because most of its readers also had to flee the city.



People in New Orleans always knew something like this could happen. The city was built below sea level. The waters of Lake Pontchartrain are to the north. The Mississippi River is to the south. A flood control system around the city includes pumping stations and dams made of earth and concrete. Katrina turned and did not even hit New Orleans with its most powerful winds and rain. Still, it caused two levees to break the next day. Most of the city was flooded.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

Last week, engineers began to pump floodwaters out of the city. The long process got off to a slow start. Public health officials warned that the water is a poisonous mix of chemicals, waste and bacteria. Fires and natural-gas leaks only added to the dangers.

By the middle of last week, as many as ten thousand people were believed to remain in New Orleans. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered them to leave or be removed by force, if necessary.


The city of New Orleans was established in seventeen eighteen. It began as a French colony. It survived fires and disease. It survived hurricanes and floods, to become one of America's most interesting cities.

In seventeen sixty-two, the king of France gave the Louisiana Territory to his cousin, the king of Spain. But in eighteen hundred France secretly regained control. Three years later, France sold Louisiana to the United States.


Over the years, New Orleans became well known for its celebrations of in the spring. The city is also famous for its music. New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz. Places like Preservation Hall in the French Quarter have helped keep the traditions alive.



The French Quarter suffered wind damage from Katrina, but the ground was high enough to escape the flooding.

People in New Orleans know that their city could suffer storms even worse than Hurricane Katrina. Some say they want to make a new life elsewhere. But others want to rebuild and start again. Similar decisions will have to be made in many other places, as the Gulf Coast deals with a storm now headed for the history books.



Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. Our shows are online at www.unsv.com. I'm Bob Doughty.


And I'm Faith Lapidus. To send us e-mail, write to special@voanews.com. And we hope you join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

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