Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today toured regions of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and, as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), participated in a field hearing on the rebuilding efforts.
The EPW field hearing, headed by Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), focused on comprehensive approaches to coastal wetlands restoration and hurricane and storm damage protection, and debris waste management following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Reflecting on his visit to New Orleans, Senator Cardin today issued the following statement:
"In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled down on the Gulf region and we now know it was one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history. But the greater tragedies occurred both before the storm hit and after it passed, when the government first failed to properly prepare for the hurricane and then failed to properly respond. On television, we watched as thousands of our most vulnerable people sat on their rooftops and swam through infested water, left behind to fend for themselves. The government's dismal preparation and response left a region in ruins, thousands of people without food or shelter, and millions of Americans without confidence in their government.
"Hundreds of thousands of displaced victims relocated to states across the nation. Many Marylanders welcomed Katrina victims into their homes, schools, and churches. I met with several of these displaced victims and listened to their heartbreaking stories. I made a commitment to them to do everything in my power to make sure that we rebuild their city and ensure that such a human disaster never happens again on American soil. In order to fulfill that commitment, I felt it was important to observe the rebuilding effort firsthand.
"After touring the region, it's difficult for me to believe it has been a entire year and a half since Hurricane Katrina hit land. While some regions of New Orleans are thriving again, many of the most disadvantaged communities look as though the hurricane hit last week. Many people have been unable to return to their homes and to work. Debris from the hurricane can still be seen, and FEMA trailers still line the streets of many neighborhoods. Many residents of New Orleans who relocated after the hurricane have chosen not to return, but many others who would like to return are unable to because their neighborhoods are simply gone or they are not sure that their neighborhoods would be safe again from flooding.
"Removal of debris is necessary to facilitate the recovery of the region. However, the methods by which these wastes are to be managed require careful consideration to ensure that their management won't pose a future threat to human health or the environment. The levees, floodwalls, canals, and pumps meant to protect the city from storms and flooding need to be rebuilt and improved. And the most important and challenging task will be to restore and stop the loss of coastal wetlands that serve as a natural 'buffer' between the Gulf and the city.
"It's one thing to watch the images on television or hear stories about Hurricane Katrina from others. But having now seen the rebuilding efforts firsthand, I can appreciate the enormity of the task ahead to bring New Orleans back.
"The victims of Katrina who relocated to Maryland are contributing enormously to our communities and I hope they choose to remain in our state permanently. But for those who want to return home, I will fight to make sure they return to the vibrant city they once knew."