Friday marks the third anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Last week a New Orleans attorney and activist was in Bridgehampton to educate the local community about problems with the recovery effort on the Gulf Coast.
Monique Harden, an attorney and a New Orleans native, accompanied her hometown Hot 8 Brass Band when they made a stop in Bridgehampton last week. A co-founder of the law firm "Advocates for Environmental Human Rights,” Harden is on the advisory panel of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health.
Ms. Harden told us:
"Its an organization that was created after Hurricane Katrina to develop and build community driven philanthropy in the Gulf region for people to rebuild, return and to fight for their rights to be able to do those things.”Harden and the musicians brought along a trailer of the type FEMA supplied for those whose homes were destroyed. She related:
“In the initial stages the battle was to even get a FEMA trailer..as you might recall in the national news – the question was why was there such a long waiting list for people to get a FEMA trailer- when there are loads and loads at an airport in Arkansas ..just being stored there.. So that was battle one."Harden says Battle 2 was getting FEMA to acknowledge that the trailers they delivered, were unhealthy. In 2006 tests showed un-safe levels of formaldehyde in the units. FEMA finally agreed there was a problem after a Congressional investigation.
But their plan to get everyone out of the trailers by June of this year has failed. OXFAM reported this week that 35,000 people are still living in the trailers. Harden says this has resulted in tremendous hardship for people.
“People haven’t been given adequate alternative housing or even safe housing.
So it’s causing people to make that hard decision - do I live on the streets or
do I find a way to live with friends or a relative. Some people are living in their cars.
It has added to the housing crisis which was already a problem.”
Harden says unfortunately, under federal law, citizens have no rights to recovery after a disaster.
"Should there be a disaster that happens here, no one has the right to demand assistance, even for emergency medical care, no one has the right to expect compensation for property damage or any losses. It's all in the discretion of the President and that's according to the Robert T. Stafford Act on national emergencies and disasters."Ms. Harden says:
"Contrary to what they may think about our so-called recovery in the Gulf area,Contributions to the work of the Gulf Coast Fund can be made at gulfcoastfund.org
Katrina was just one disaster but we have another disaster of political decisions which are making a mess of our lives"
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This report was prepared for broadcast Friday August 29 on WPKN 89.5 Bridgeport and WPKM 88.7 Montauk. WPKN news is heard Monday-Friday at 6:30 pm following Free Speech Radio News at 6pm.