Rotary clubs join with others to offer millions in Katrina aid

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 16, 2006



LAPLACE – Over a year into the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in the Southeast Louisiana area, the work is far from over.

That point was made clear this week at the LaPlace Rotary meeting, where District 6840 Governor &#8220Jerry” Fortino spoke to the local club and informed the group about the extensive work being done by Rotary to help.

The Rotary Club nationwide has become one of many organizations, both civic and religious, which have made amazing contributions to the recovery and restoration effort, Fortino said. It has brought groups of people together who otherwise might never have seen how the others work.

&#8220I’ve seen the humanitarian work being done by so many religious groups, and so many groups like Rotary and the Kiwanis, all working together,” he said. &#8220The only way to describe it is to call it beautiful.”

Fortino has been in charge of the Rotary effort in the region on many fronts.

He has coordinated those who have wanted to come to the area, and given them tours of the area from New Orleans to the Gulf Coast.

He said it has always led to special projects from different groups, seeing something that touched their heart and led them to help.

One Rotary group came during Mardi Gras, and saw a band in the parade that included many different high schools joining together since the bands were all so scattered. One school in particular, Warren Easton, had tattered uniforms, so the Rotary group went home and ended up sending $30,000 from New York for new uniforms.

In Pass Christian, Ms., a group went back to their Pennsylvania club and told about the need for new homes. The group up north joined with the Presbyterian Church to come here and build five homes. When they came to Mississippi to see the final product, the group was so touched that they secured financing for 15 more homes.

Fortino and his wife are both doctors who practice in New Orleans, but have a Methodist Church right behind their office that currently houses 10 FEMA trailers.

&#8220There is still so much to do,” Fortino said. &#8220South of Belle Chasse, there are 20 cities that all need every basic service just to begin living again.”

The Rotary Governor sends out e-mail updates about the various New Orleans regions still needing work.

*** In the City of New Orleans, nearly 150,000 homes are still empty and waiting for repairs that will probably not be done until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides adequate levee protection.

*** In St. Tammany Parish, a significant portion of St. Tammany’s southern coastal area was flooded by Katrina’s storm surge. Businesses and homes were damaged in all of the communities, and some have been repaired, but many still have much work to be done.

*** In St. Bernard Parish, virtually all four cities of Chalmette, Arabi, Mereaux and Violet were destroyed by the levee breaks, flooding and the Murphy oil spill. Very few people are even living there now, and very little repair has been done.

*** In Plaquemines Parish, virtually all cities were destroyed with the exception of Belle Chasse. Much of the trash has been picked up and the area looks cleaner, but there are no buildings to speak of-just FEMA trailers. Only a few schools are beginning to open and utility services are still being restored.

*** On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the entire stretch of the coastline was destroyed by the storm surge, with most houses and businesses shattered and swept off their foundations. The destruction is almost complete, and the task of rebuilding is gargantuan. Progress is being made, but Fortino says &#8220the job is comparable to emptying the ocean with a bucket.”

One major project the Rotary Club has taken on is helping restore City Park, which relies solely on public funding and donations. So far the Rotary clubs have raised $361,000 of the $600,000 needed to restore the park. Donations are still being sought.

&#8220We have millions of helpers come here from Rotary International. And a lot of people come from places like California, and actually find it fun to work here for a week, and then come back again and again. It is very rewarding to help when so much needs to be done,” he added.

Anyone interested in donating to the City Park fund, or getting more information can contact Fortino at