Partners, Volume 15, Number 3, 2005

Katrina—A Name We Won’t Forget

In 2004, four hurricanes hit Florida in a single season. This unprecedented bombardment devastated many of Florida’s communities, especially those along its West Coast. The hurricane season of 2005 has been even more destructive—the Atlantic’s busiest in recorded history according to the National Hurricane Center, followed by the season of 1969. Ironically, 1969 was the year when Hurricane Camille pounded the Gulf Coast following a track similar to Katrina’s.

Over the years we have coped with many storms and the problems they create in the Sixth Federal Reserve District, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier. People living in coastal areas may be better prepared for storms, but addressing community needs after a natural disaster remains a huge undertaking.

Rebuilding a devastated community requires a great deal of effort and cooperation from many different organizations, and developing a suitable plan can be quite a challenge. While storms usually result in similar types of problems, Katrina has brought about a whole new set of difficulties, primarily due to family displacement. Yes, natural disasters often displace some families from their homes for a time, but never have we had to deal with displacement on such a large scale before. Almost an entire city of several hundred thousand people was forced to evacuate from New Orleans and relocate to communities spread across the entire nation.

Since flooding and not just windstorm was a major cause of damage, experts anticipate environmental hazards as a result of mold and bacteria, making redevelopment that much more complex.

The Atlanta Fed’s Community Affairs Office understands the enormous task involved in rebuilding our coastal states after Katrina. We also realize that extensive coordination will be essential to ensure the effectiveness of the many national, regional and local organizations who have called us wanting to assist in the huge undertaking of redeveloping the New Orleans community.

At the Fed we have emphasized issues that are within our reach, and we are poised to shift our focus as opportunities arise. We started by addressing the needs of our staff and ensuring their safety. We relocated many of our New Orleans employees to our other facilities and provided them with housing and work. We also moved immediately to support financial institutions by keeping the products and services we provide flowing seamlessly until our New Orleans Branch became more fully operational.

In the Community Affairs Office, our current focus is to assist those displaced from their homes by working with organizations that provide jobs, housing, education and financial assistance. We are serving on task forces and undertaking special projects with numerous groups in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Birmingham and other areas that experienced a large surge of evacuees. We are also addressing regulatory questions from financial institutions through our Banker Roundtables and other mechanisms.

A lot of uncertainty still exists about how long the rebuilding will take and what the final decisions will be. However, one thing is clear: even if 2005 goes down in the record books as the busiest hurricane season ever, it will most be remembered as the year Hurricane Katrina devastated our Gulf Coast states.

Juan C. Sanchez
Community Affairs Officer

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