The full scope of wrack and ruin caused by Hurricane Katrina is hard to imagine. So it's helpful to come across a gloss on the current state of housing, employment, and public housing in the storm-damaged region by the Institute for Southern Studies.
The gist of their report: while the federal government now claims to have spent over $100 billion in recovery, more than 70 percent of that money went to cleanup and salvage operations, not permanent rebuilding.
Twenty-two percent of that money went to administrative overhead -- not direct aid -- in the first few months after the storm. The damaged areas are being asked to fund their own recovery -- something neither New York after 9/11 or Florida after Hurricane Andrew had to do.
Meanwhile, federal money is amply available to contractors given carte blanche on "cost-plus" reconstruction contracts worth $2.4 billion.
The report, by the numbers, is available at www.southernstudies.org. Among its findings:
* Number of hurricane-affected households still living in FEMA trailers: 60,000
* Number of families that have asked to be moved out of their trailers over concerns that they are toxic: 1,461
* Rank of "can't pay for move" among reasons those displaced by Katrina say they aren't returning: 1
* Number of free clinics still operating in Harrison County, Mississippi, but that the state's licensing board is considering shutting down over concerns about competition with for-profit doctors: 4
* Number of air monitors the EPA installed in the Lower Ninth Ward, where demolition work has been concentrated, as the agency assured residents that they were being protected from asbestos dust: 0
* Months that passed between a Sierra Club report showing dangerously high levels of formaldehyde -- a carcinogen that can also cause depression -- in 83 percent of FEMA trailers and the agency's decision to temporarily suspend deployment and sales of those trailers: 15
* Factor by which suicide attempts among residents of Louisiana and Mississippi trailer parks has increased since Hurricane Katrina: 79.
In what seems like another universe, Michael Brown, the disgraced former FEMA director, has turned his talents to the consulting business. He's helping disaster-response and counterterrorism companies sell their wares to the federal government. "There is life after government," Brown told the Washington Post, "even after you have been run through the wringer, even after you have been thrown under the bus by the leader of the free world."
Brown is not solely responsible for response to the hurricane, a response so inept as to verge on the criminal. But it's another injury to the hurricane's real victims that he's now making a living off it.