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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/27/AR2006012701456.html
New Orleans Feels Cast Adrift
Perception of Washington Indifference Compounds Despair

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2006; A10

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 27 -- It has been an especially disheartening week for the people of New Orleans as they struggle to rebuild.

President Bush announced he would not support a popular plan for a government buyout of damaged houses. Word leaked that the White House had ignored e-mail warnings of Hurricane Katrina's potential danger in the 48 hours before the storm, including predictions of breached levees and massive flooding. Administration officials said they would not provide information to a Senate inquiry into the government's response to the hurricane.

Even Laura Bush raised ire during a visit to the area when she had this to say to local reporters about governmental relief: "I know it's very, very slow. That's how government works."

The combined effect, after five months of trying to clean up homes, reopen businesses and resurrect life here had people muttering, local commentators fuming and Louisiana officials furious.

Vickie Bassetti, 66, owner of Bassetti Fine Art Photographs in the French Quarter, said Friday that residents are feeling "more abandoned than ever" by official Washington. "The reality is being ignored or it's more than they are capable of coping with. . . . They have other agendas," she said.

Tulane University history professor Lawrence N. Powell said that Washington is treating New Orleanians "like we're some kind of Kleenex that you can just use and throw away." He said Washington does not seem to care that Louisiana supplies energy to, and receives river-carried waste from, a large part of the country. "Then they tell us we are stupid to live down here," he said.

He was especially annoyed by the first lady's comments about government's slow pace, saying, "It may work that way under Bush, but it didn't work that way under Lyndon Johnson."

Government leaders were angry about Bush's rejection of a plan by Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) that would permit a government buyout of damaged properties.

"Administration officials do not understand the suffering of the people of Louisiana," Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) said in a statement this week.

Bush's decision, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said on her Web site, "demonstrates a continued lack of understanding for the magnitude of the devastation and the immense rebuilding task our state faces."

She told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "What we need is for our president to be our number one champion, not our number one obstacle."

Bush had promised to champion the city's rebuilding, the newspaper noted in an editorial this week. "The people of greater New Orleans took him at his word. But the president cannot make good on his promise until this region has the tools that it needs to recover. That hasn't happened yet, and time is wasting," the Times-Picayune said.

Eric Lewis, 38, a cement finisher, said: "They say the president has released money. I haven't seen any." Lewis owns several houses in the heavily ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. He was spending part of Friday checking out his Ford F-Super Duty truck. It had sat, untouched for months, among other now-junk cars and trucks and houses ruined by post-Katrina flooding.

He said he feels as abandoned as his truck: "I feel that for me and a whole lot of other people."

Burton E. Benrud Jr., one of the owners of the landmark Cafe du Monde, said, "Where are the FEMA maps?" The federally produced maps will determine what can be rebuilt and where.

"Why can't they issue those images right away so people can do what they need to do?" he asked. His voice had the tone of someone left behind by friends. "The longer they take doing it, the less chance that people will come back to the city to rebuild."

He said that "inertia and inaction" in Washington were making it impossible for many New Orleanians even to know where to start.

Bassetti said, "Why isn't everybody furious?" Furious about what? she was asked. "Furious about everything."

New Orleans has a tradition of operating independently. That isolation, said Powell, has created a distinctive culture and ethos. He added: "It's been a city born in neglect. It looks like it may expire from neglect."

Special correspondent Julia Cass contributed to this report.

2006 The Washington Post Company