Health care leaders view Katrina devastation, see hope of rebuilding

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — Gwen Smith keeps an envelope full of her important papers in the trunk of her car, along with bottles of water and Army rations. She and her husband, Leroy, don’t ever want to be caught unprepared, as they were in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home and the lives they had known. But today the Smiths live in a lovely two-bedroom home in the Gentilly Woods neighborhood of New Orleans, where they welcomed dozens of Catholic health leaders June 9.

The stop at the refurbished home was part of a tour of post-Katrina projects sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for participants in the Catholic Health Association’s annual assembly. The CHA group also visited a program in a former Catholic church that provides “all-inclusive care” for the frail elderly. They paused for a moment of prayer in the city’s Lower 9th Ward — destroyed but being rebuilt — to remember the 2,800 lives lost in the flooding following Hurricane Katrina.

Martin Gutierrez, executive director of neighborhood and community centers for Catholic Charities of New Orleans, said no one knows precisely how many people live in New Orleans nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina. “We can’t wait for the (2010) census,” he said, estimating that 200,000 to 350,000 people currently live in the city, or about three-fourths of the pre-Katrina population. The number of undocumented immigrants is even more difficult to determine, he added.

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