Thursday, August 24, 2006

New Orleanians heap Katrina blame on govt

New Orleanians heap Katrina blame on govt
By Peter Henderson

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - To hear Agnes Ferrell tell it, the only reason that President Bush has mustered federal hurricane aid for New Orleans is that Mayor Ray Nagin would not leave him alone.

"The president wasn't doing anything until this man (Nagin) go up to him," she said recently while picking up some groceries at what appeared to be the only convenience store open in the Lower Ninth Ward.

A year after Hurricane Katrina swept through, killing more than 1,300 along the Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center, and flooding 80 percent of New Orleans, many in the city blame the federal government -- and its slow response to the disaster -- most of all for their woes.

But there is plenty of frustration to go around, and a Gallup/USA Today poll released this week shows that anger at Nagin's team is rising.

Some 29 percent of those surveyed said that local officials had done a poor job responding to the hurricane. Respondents were slightly more dissatisfied with the state and federal governments' performance.

But dissatisfaction with the mayor rose sharply, from 20 percent rating his performance as "poor" late last year to 29 percent in this poll.

"The city, the federal government, ain't none of them helping," said Sigma Frazier, 76, sitting at a neighbor's house in the Upper Ninth Ward, an area which was flooded.

Nagin, she said, was on her bad list. "I ain't seen him in the Ninth Ward," she said.


Only about half of the city of New Orleans' residents are back and more than 100,000 families along the Gulf Coast live in government-issued trailers. Meanwhile, many fear the levees will not hold if another monster storm hits.

"If the levees had held, none of it would have happened," said David Fein, pouring daiquiris at a bar on Bourbon Street.

A recent screening of director Spike Lee's Katrina documentary, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" illustrated that ill will against Bush was still high.

Thousands crowded into the city's basketball arena and enormous hisses erupted when clips of Bush played, typically showing the president promising aid or explaining that help was coming as quickly as possible. The mayor generally won applause.

Positive opinions, as registered by "excellent" ratings in the USA Today/Gallup poll, showed Nagin's team with 12 percent, more than twice the level of the federal government and 5 points ahead of the state government.

There are definitely those trying to move beyond blame, though. Charlie Jackson lives in a government-issue trailer in back of his damaged Ninth Ward house with two other adults and four children.

His family climbed up into the attic when flood waters reached the level of the street sign outside their house a year ago, and they escaped in a boat. He now is focused on his grandchildren.

"If I can see them happy and moving, I'm cool," he said.