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Hurricane Irene: A mini Katrina?

DOSHON FARAD Special to the AmNews | 9/21/2011, 3:54 p.m.
New Jerseyans soaked by Irene

The members of POWER visited every section of the First Ward handing out food, water and other supplies.

When we first arrived on Sept. 4 at East Side High School, one of the city's designated shelters and the preplanned location for a visit by President Barack Obama, who was touring the area that same day to assess the hurricane's damage, we spoke to Bilal Hakeem, the executive director of POWER.

Hakeem told the Amsterdam News, "This is our Hurricane Katrina," charging that the government's attitude toward the flood victims, who were primarily Black, Latino and poor white, was identical to the attitude held towards New Orleans residents after Katrina.

Hakeem claimed that the state and federal governments were slow to help Paterson, and that it wasn't until the city's business district began to be damaged by the flooding that they decided to act.

Most of the residents we spoke to expressed displeasure at the city and state governments' handling of the crisis. Several First Ward residents sharply criticized Mayor Jeffrey Jones and ward representative and City Council President Anthony Davis for being "slow-responding" and offering "non-engagement."

A woman told the Amsterdam News on the condition of anonymity, "Mayor Jones was more concerned with making photo ops with the president than he was about tending to the needs of his own residents," asserting that he and others intentionally kept the president from visiting the First Ward, where flood victims still remained.

On that particular day, Jones was a part of Obama's entourage as he toured the Paterson area.

The woman was not the only one to raise such a concern about the mayor. Hakeem criticized the mayor for being indifferent to the plight of the flood victims. He alleged that he had to "force the mayor to call the EPA" to assess the toxicity of the ward and that he didn't know where to send FEMA.

Hakeem also noted how Obama was seen on television that same day visiting the surrounding wealthier, white towns and individually greeting residents who were affected by flooding, but did not do the same while visiting Paterson. He accused the mayor of having something to do with this.

Jones denied such claims in a phone interview with the Amsterdam News. "Mr. Hakeem can't force me to do anything. FEMA rescuers were already on the ground. I don't know where any of these accusations are coming from," he said.

When asked if he had anything to do with the president not visiting with First Ward victims, he responded by making clear that he did not have control over the president's schedule, and that he was "only a passenger" on the tour.

City Council President Anthony Davis also denied charges that he was unconcerned about his constituency, mentioning that he "took off a day from work to ensure that people were being tended to." He further added that he wasn't as concerned about seeing the president as he was about making sure that people were being fed and tended to.