HOUSTON – New Orleans officials used unequivocal rhetoric during a Houston press conference Sunday to dispel any uncertainty that the Big Easy will rise again. “We want you to come home, and we want you to have a home to come to,” Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said.Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had questioned the value of devoting time, funds and resources to rebuild a city that is 7 feet below sea level. “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed,” Hastert said in an interview with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.According to one poll, a majority of Americans agree with him. In an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted last week, 54 percent said those living in vulnerable sections of the city should relocate.Hastert later qualified his comments after they provoked a strong backlash from the citizens of New Orleans and their legislators. “My comments about rebuilding the city were intended to reflect my sincere concern with how the city is rebuilt to ensure the future protection of its citizens and not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt,” he said. Water, which once covered 80 percent of the city, is now being pumped out. Officials now think it will take less than the original estimate of two to three weeks to drain all of the water. Even after that, most agree the city will be uninhabitable until significant renovations take place. No one is certain how long that will take or how much it will cost. The federal government has already devoted a total of $62.3 billion for Katrina relief, the AP reported. After touring downtown New Orleans yesterday, President Bush talked about the future of the city. “My attitude is this: The people of New Orleans can lay out what New Orleans ought to look like in the future, – and the federal government will help.”
In the Houston evacuee shelters, rumors have circulated that the city will not be rebuilt. The evacuees, however, remain adamant that it should be completely restored. Many promise they will personally help with the rebuilding efforts.
“It’s going to take time, and that’s all we got,” said evacuee Ricky Hampton, who said he plans to help. “People can’t just give up on home.”He said people would return to the city because it is a place they love and because it is easy to succeed there. “They call it the Big Easy because you can make it there. If you can’t make it in New Orleans, you can’t make it anywhere.” Evacuees spoke fondly about the city they call home. “In New Orleans, we’re like a family,” evacuee Walter Davis said. “We party together, we fight together, we do everything together.” He said New Orleans is different from places in the United States where people don’t even know their next-door neighbors.”Back home, if you’re my neighbor, I’m calling you, I’m meeting you, my wife is bringing you dinner over,” Davis said, adding that the only other place in the country with that kind of neighborliness is Detroit.Blanco and city officials stressed the importance of upgrading critical infrastructure such as the levees and improving communication between law enforcement and emergency agencies. “We have a chance to do it better, to do it stronger, to do it right,” she said. Already, electricity is returning to the city. Blanco described flying out of New Orleans Saturday night and seeing glimmers of light amid the devastation on the ground.”Light is life,” she said.