Ninth Ward residents, others blast U.S. Senate Majority Leader

Published: Jan. 7, 2013 at 10:57 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2013 at 10:58 PM CST
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Katrina survivor Bobbie Banks criticizes storm remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Katrina survivor Bobbie Banks criticizes storm remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

New Orleans, La. -- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's comments about Hurricane Katrina have prompted some blistering reaction from locals.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, scars from Katrina's flooding are still visible.  There are still swaths of vacant property where homes sat before the August 2005 storm.

But in verbally chastising House Republicans over aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, the powerful Senate Democrat said Katrina's damage did not compare to what Sandy did to the Northeast in late October.

"When we had that devastating Katrina, we were there within days, taking care of Mississippi, Alabama and especially Louisiana, within days. We are now past two months with the people of New York.  And the people of New Orleans and that area, they were hurt, but nothing in comparison to what happened to the people of New England.  Almost a million people lost their homes," said Reid Friday on the Senate floor.

"If he thinks they're getting slow reaction, he just hasn't been around," said Bobbie Banks, a Ninth Ward resident who reacted to Reid's statement at her home Monday afternoon.

She hinted that remarks by the Nevada Democrat may have had to do with the economic standing of many of the Katrina victims.  "My reaction to the senator is, he wanted to say the people don't compare, in my opinion," Banks continued.

Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana, attacked Reid on social media and in front of news cameras Monday.

"I think, sadly, Harry Reid proved that he's an idiot.  That comment was not only wrong, and factually just flat out wrong, it's also a real insult to Gulf Coast residents," Vitter said.

He said both Katrina and Sandy were horrible natural disasters which caused tremendous human suffering.  "But by any measure Katrina was the biggest natural disaster this country has gone through, with over 1,800 deaths," stated Vitter.

Vitter said, according to the National Hurricane Center, Sandy resulted in 131 deaths. He said Katrina caused over $108 billion in damage, compared to the $65 billion Sandy left behind.

Louisiana's senior senator also issued a statement.  "Leader Reid misspoke and he has clarified his statement," said Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.  "Sen. Reid has been a strong advocate for the Gulf Coast's recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I am confident that he will continue to provide extraordinary leadership and support to the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast moving forward, as well as champion the needs of the people of the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy."

Landrieu's brother and another Democrat, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, had this response to Reid's comments.  "We have big shoulders -- it really doesn't matter whether Sandy was bigger than Katrina, or Katrina was bigger than Sandy.  They were both catastrophic events for the American people. The bigger message is that the American people came to the aid of us when we were hurt, when we were in our darkest hour and we should be in full support of all our fellow Americans in the Northeast," Landrieu said.

"Human loss is human loss. I think it was a slip of the tongue and possibly a lack of funding, frustration from the Congress," said Jamal Elhayek, a coordinator of a mini-farm being built in the Ninth Ward to give residents more access to fresh vegetables.

Monday afternoon, Reid issued a statement, saying he had misspoken when comparing Katrina to Sandy. His comments came as he criticized House Republicans over a delay in a vote on aid for the victims of Sandy.

Banks said the lessons the federal government should have learned from Katrina should have expedited response to Sandy victims.  "I think they should have gotten better help," she said.

"This dust up about whether one's bigger than the other is really from my perspective irrelevant and really a sideshow," said the mayor.

Still, Banks and others who survived Katrina remain upset about Reid's words.

"I know it just didn't compare, the lives that were lost… Life is life, and he should never have made a statement like that," she said.

Reid was also criticized by the Louisiana Republican Party, Jefferson Parish President John Young and others.