“God, look at the blue roofs. Oh my God. It breaks my heart.” These were the words of the lady sitting behind me as we looked out the airplane window flying into New Orleans and saw the temporary roofing repairs.

As a New Orleans native and someone who has a deep love for the city, like so many of my fellow New Orleaneans, this past Thanksgiving was indeed heartbreaking. But it was many other things as well. There are signs of hope for this city, but to ensure the best future for New Orleans, we must make the appropriate long-term commitments to the levees and to the wetlands.

This was my first trip to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and on the whole it was better than I expected. Many areas of the city not badly flooded have been repopulated by New Orleans natives and others. Half of the city has power and gas, and important areas like the French Quarter and the Central Business District have few remaining debris. These are disproportionately white areas of the city, however, and much of the city, including many low-income communities, has not seen the type of repopulation that the non-flooded communities have.

Only a handful of my friends were in town this Thanksgiving, because many went to visit their families in Houston and elsewhere. New Orleans was a community with a rich culture and history, and it does “break my heart” to see this community torn apart. I was able to return home to my family in New Orleans. I cannot imagine, however, what it must be been like to spend Thanksgiving in another city away from friends and former neighbors with little hope of returning home.

As I see it, New Orleans does have a future. Thankfully, many of the invaluable and historic elements of the city that have worldwide tourist appeal have been preserved. New Orleans will live on as a much smaller city and as a symbol of what it once was and may someday return to be – a great American city.

The question is: To what degree will New Orleans return to its past glory? To me this is a question of making a lasting commitment to its future.

In my view, the problem businesses and residents face right now in deciding whether to return to New Orleans is whether or not the city has a stable future. No one knows the answer to this, but one way to give them that is for the federal government to guarantee a coastal restoration plan and the construction of a levee system capable of withstanding category-five storms.

The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the levees will cost $3.5 billion and many estimate the coastal restoration plan to cost $14-16 billion. The problem is that the vast majority of federal money has been allocated to FEMA, which is mandated to provide short-term and medium-term housing, and to clear debris. While there is a need for housing and certainly for lots of debris to be cleared in the immediate future, there must be a long-term commitment beyond that short period of time. Money must be given toward that effort before being allocated to FEMA.

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has promised to use legislative actions to hold Congress in session through Christmas and New Year’s unless a commitment is made to build a category 5 levee system. If these measures must be taken, I hope that the nation will support her efforts to build the system.

As people return to the city, it is important to ensure adequate food and healthcare, and it was reassuring to see Red Cross trucks offering assistance in many parking lots around the city. FEMA provides only limited funds for food and healthcare payments, and that is why the role that the Red Cross is fulfilling is so important. I would like to express my gratitude to the Georgetown community for its myriad efforts to raise money for the Red Cross through organizations like GU Hurricane Emergency Relief Effort. Without these efforts, food and medical assistance would not be as readily available

In this viewpoint, I hope I offered you a genuine New Orleans perspective. I urge the Georgetown community to support the future New Orleans. I also wish to offer my sympathies to the communities east of New Orleans where much stronger winds caused severe damage and to the areas affected by hurricanes Rita and Wilma. I hope that we can find effective solutions to solve all of the rebuilding problems caused by these hurricanes.

Johnny Williams is a senior in the College.

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