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New Orleans at the ready to help Haiti rebuild

Five years after Katrina devastated their city, New Orleanians are putting their knowledge and experience to use in Haiti.

By Bill Sasser/ Correspondent / February 8, 2010

Empathy: Dr. Francesco Simeone of Tulane University in New Orleans treats an earthquake survivor in Jacmel, Haiti.

Courtesy of Michael Beauford/Haiti AHDH


New Orleans

Marie Jose Poux is a hospice nurse in New Orleans, but she was born in Haiti. Ms. Poux was in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 when the earthquake struck, and she spent the next two weeks lending what help she could to the ravaged city.

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"My soul is not here [in New Orleans]. It remains doing what I was doing in Haiti," says Poux, who runs a charity, Hope for Haitian Children, from her home in New Orleans' Treme neighborhood. "I saw south Florida after it was hit by hurricane Andrew, and New Orleans after Katrina, and New York after 9/11. And this is like all three of those times 100."

Haiti's cataclysmic earthquake has struck home in New Orleans, which itself is still recovering from the 2005 hurricane and flood. For a time, the city's survival was in doubt, but with much aid, it's come a long way. Now, many New Orleanians want to put their knowledge and experience to use in Haiti, helping others in dire need.

"We've learned some powerful lessons here about recovering from disaster, and we want the Haitian people to benefit from our experience," says Jacques Morial, a lawyer and community activist who has worked with residents in New Orleans' devastated Lower Ninth Ward. "We learned that after a disaster like this, people need the basics of food, shelter, and medical attention. But we also learned after Katrina that when the rebuilding begins, the stakeholders in a community need to be included in decisionmaking and self-governing."

Mr. Morial, son of former New Orleans mayor Ernest Morial and brother of National Urban League president and former mayor Marc Morial, joined 40 other local leaders from nonprofits and recovery organizations for a meeting one week after the earthquake. They strategized on how their expertise and resources could help Haiti on a range of issues, from emergency medical treatment to long-term housing.

The coalition's first effort is the Haiti Emergency Village Project. On Jan. 30, an eight-person team flew from New Orleans to Haiti to assist local hospitals and set up a base camp as part of a still-developing plan to build housing for earthquake survivors.

Backers of the project include the Make It Right foundation, the nonprofit founded by actor Brad Pitt, which is redeveloping parts of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Those working on the Haiti Emergency Village Project hope it can serve as a model for quickly building sustainable housing in the wake of disaster.

"We know what is involved in recovering from a disaster like this and hope to be a part of what we expect will be a large and ongoing response from New Orleans," says Flozell Daniels Jr., CEO of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation. "There's an undeniable relationship between New Orleans and Haiti, and it makes sense for us to get involved."