Caring for the Gulf Coast one year later

The satellite images one year ago were stunning. A massive storm, churning in the Gulf of Mexico, slowly took aim at the city of New Orleans.

We watched live last August as Hurricane Katrina devastated the coastal portions of Louisiana and Mississippi. In the initial hours we were mesmerized by the sights of the whipping winds tearing off the Superdome’s roof.

By the next day, we began to understand the true horrors and destruction. The breached levees in New Orleans flooded vast swaths of the city, sometimes rising to the tops of houses. Smaller towns and cities along the Gulf Coast were obliterated by the storm surge and winds. Because of the widespread damage, we may never know the entire toll, but at least 1,800 people died because of the storm.

In the chaos that followed, it was easy to focus on blaming our government’s disorganized response. But Americans and people throughout the world stepped up to provide aid to the impacted communities. The Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity raced to the region. Celebrities from Harry Connick Jr. to Sean Penn provided money and lent their voices to raise awareness. Even Oprah Winfrey and her Angel Network of viewers built an entire subdivision to house homeless survivors.

Kent State students wanted to contribute, too. So more than 400 of them traveled to Biloxi, Miss., on their spring break, hoping to help however they could. For a week, they cleared debris and helped repair houses. Giving up their week off and spending their own money to assist Katrina’s victims was truly an honorable gesture.

But one year later, we wonder how most of us are engaged. Living 1,000 miles away, do we still care about the situation on the Gulf Coast? Do we even know what the situation there is?

It’s easy to think that because there is no longer a media blitz or public outcry that everything is going fine in the recovery. But on this anniversary, it’s helpful to take stock of the progress that has and hasn’t been made.

A recent New York Times article reported that the population of New Orleans is still less than half of what it was before the storm hit. Outside of the downtown area, piles of debris still clog neighborhoods. Damaged and abandoned houses sit empty, contaminated with mold.

Still, some people are back on their feet. Some businesses have reopened. But there is much work to be done.

Kent State United for Biloxi hopes to return to the region again this school year. And plenty of charities (Oprah’s included) could still use your donations of money or time. The further away we get from the events of last year, the harder it becomes to remember that more than 300,000 people still have no home to return to.

What can you do for the Gulf Coast?

If nothing else, at least pay attention.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.