by Dean Whittaker

At the risk of exposing you to “Katrina Fatigue” (being told about the devastation precipitated by one of the most destructive hurricanes in our history), I would like to share with you an experience that I had while volunteering for a week in New Orleans .

In February the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) sent a request to its members asking for volunteers to go to the Gulf Coast Region to work with various economic development organizations for a week. IEDC had received a grant from the Economic Development Administration to pay the travel expenses for these volunteers.

Skip Nagelvoort, a local retired investment banker and I signed up to volunteer the week of April 9th, 2006. We worked with GNO, Inc. (Greater New Orleans, Inc.) the regional economic development organization.

What I experienced were thousands of houses and hundreds of businesses destroyed or damaged. Thousands of cars were parked under viaducts waiting to be re-cycled. Above all, I saw a city struggling to survive under very difficult conditions.

But, by far the greatest tragedy of all is the lost relationships among friends and family. Many residents said that it was sad to lose all of their possession but what they missed the most were their friends and family. In the end, it was their relationships that meant the most to them. The whole idea of creating “community” is intriguing. The concept seems to be that we can do things together that none of us can do alone. It is through community that we have art, music, theater, religion, history, innovation, production, and probably survival.

My other observation is that whatever was dysfunctional before the storm was even more so after…schools, public safety, healthcare, etc. If it didn’t work before the storm, it was 100 times worse after the storm.

Not only were homes, churches, schools, hospitals, shopping centers, government offices, marinas, and apartment complexes severely damaged or destroyed, but also the very social fabric that makes a community were impacted as well. In New Orleans’ case, it is hard to find hope. The community is divided by race, politics, and income like many cities in this country.

My first question was why would anyone want to go back to New Orleans? What motivated Shell Oil company to bring 1,000 employees back to New Orleans who had been evacuated to Houston and other cities?

If you are looking at real estate investment, you might check out the tax laws relative to housing in New Orleans .50% write off in one year, 3% capital through guaranteed tax exempt bonds, etc. Of course, there is the possibility of another hurricane but the odds are low and even if one does come, the levies are likely to hold this time.

My view is that New Orleans is on life support but expected to survive. Send its residents your positive thoughts and prayers and, if you get the opportunity, volunteer to help re-build the city.