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Hurricane Katrina leader tells Manitobans to invest now

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Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin saw his city destroyed by hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has witnessed its remarkable rebirth.

Now an author, businessman and emergency management consultant, Nagin travels the globe preaching preparedness and offering advice on dealing with natural disasters.

His main message: Invest in infrastructure now to avoid death, destruction and reconstruction costs down the road.

"Push your leaders to do the right thing," he told a disaster-management conference in Winnipeg Wednesday.

The conference drew more than 450 emergency response and planning officials, municipal politicians and senior government officials.

Nagin was mayor of New Orleans as hurricane Katrina caused $100 billion in damages to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Its toll included 1,800 deaths, 700 of them in New Orleans, which was 80 per cent destroyed and was completely evacuated.

Seven years later, the Big Easy is largely rebuilt, with 90 per cent of its pre-Katrina population. Its tourism industry is back, it's again a port city and transportation hub and it now ranks third, next to Los Angeles and New York, as a movie-making location.

Nagin stood up to federal officials, including former U.S. president George W. Bush, who were slow to respond to the crisis. Today, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is much better prepared and much more responsive to natural disasters, as witnessed during hurricane Sandy on the U.S. East Coast, Nagin said.

The rebuilt levee system in New Orleans cost $15 billion. If the job had been done properly after hurricane Betsy four decades earlier, the cost would have been a fraction of that and a disaster could have been averted, he said.

As they've rebuilt New Orleans, residents have made improvements. Some $2 billion of federal funds have been sunk in new schools, and a once-moribund education system is now producing students with improved test scores, Nagin said, while much of the housing has been upgraded or rebuilt.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 B2

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