U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today met with members of Maryland's faith-based community to brief them about his Feb. 26 trip to New Orleans with the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW).
Sen. Cardin toured New Orleans to get a first-hand look at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the progress – or lack of progress – that has been made since the hurricane struck on Aug. 29, 2005. He also participated in a field hearing by the committee to review debris removal, wetland restoration and storm-damage protection.
“After touring the region, it is difficult to believe that it has been 18 months since Hurricane Katrina. Debris from the hurricane can still be seen and FEMA trailers still line the streets of many neighborhoods,” he said.
The Senator told the faith-based leaders that one of his top priorities as a member of the EPW committee is to investigate the failures of government that led to the suffering of millions of Americans, and to work on solutions to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.
“The greatest tragedy of Katrina was the failure of government – at all levels. Before the storm, the government failed to prepare for the hurricane, and in the aftermath, it failed to adequately provide our most vulnerable citizens with food, shelter or medicine. I will never forget watching in horror as American citizens clung to roof tops for days begging for help.”
One of the biggest challenges facing New Orleans, said Sen. Cardin, is the overwhelming amount of debris. “Katrina generated more debris than Hurricane Andrew and the 9/11 attacks combined. The challenge is how to dispose of all that waste. Unfortunately, illegal dumping of debris has become endemic and has stymied efforts to rebuild.”
He added: “New Orleans is still a city that is suffering. I saw neighborhoods in which only about 15% of pre-hurricane population has returned. There are no stores, no services – there are only slabs of cement where houses once stood. ”
The Senator also said that the field hearing focused on the long-term problem of restoring the wetlands. “Wetlands are a natural protection against hurricanes, but today we are witnessing a loss equal to about 25 football fields a day. We cannot allow this to continue. ”
He added: “No one could have prevented Hurricane Katrina, but we could have prevented much of the human tragedy that accompanied the disaster. Government has an obligation to function effectively in protecting its citizens, it has an obligation to build a strong, adequate levee system, and it has an obligation to rebuild wetlands to so that this kind of destruction cannot happen again.”
The Rev. William Calhoun, President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, commended Sen. Cardin “for taking a step forward in investigating and analyzing the situation in the Gulf Coast states.” He added: “I there recently and I was shocked at the devastation and even more shocked by the lack of government response in helping the evacuees and in restoring the region.”