- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

They are stay-at-home moms, successful professionals and mothers of celebrities. And while many of the 140 women who arrived by private jet yesterday hail from Louisiana’s most prominent political families, their journey to the U.S. Capitol was highly personal.

Carrying photographs of their flooded homes and calling themselves “Women of the Storm,” they set out in pairs to invite each member of Congress to visit post-Katrina New Orleans to see the devastation firsthand — and support a boost in federal aid to the region.

“They must visit our decimated neighborhoods. They must see the devastation block by block,” said Anne Milling, 65, a community activist and the wife of one of the city’s top bankers.

Along with their designer bags and strings of pearls, they also carried bright blue umbrellas, symbolizing the tarps covering their pockmarked roofs.

“It was a storm that was felt around the world,” Mrs. Milling said. “Yet, who would dream that 87 percent of the House of Representatives and 70 percent of the Senate haven’t found time to visit the site of the largest catastrophe in the history of America?”

The White House says $85 billion in federal assistance has been approved thus far to help the region recover, including direct spending, tax breaks and flood insurance. Some of that money is still in the pipeline, and many Gulf Coast officials say more will be needed.

Five months after the hurricane made landfall, 55 representatives and 30 senators have visited New Orleans. The women argue that delays in federal aid to New Orleans are the result of so few lawmakers seeing the destruction up close.

The group is offering members of Congress 36-hour, all-expenses-paid trips to New Orleans.

The group, representing a Who’s Who of New Orleans society, included celebrated chefs, well-known authors, and several former Mardi Gras queens.

Also on the trip were Olivia Manning, wife of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and mother of two current NFL quarterbacks, Peyton and Eli Manning; and Verna Landrieu, mother of Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, and wife of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu.

Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, breaching levees and submerging 80 percent of New Orleans. It killed more than 1,300 people, most of them in Louisiana, and caused more than $200 billion worth of damage.

To date, more than 66 percent of the city’s homes and offices have no electricity — and even more lack water and natural gas service.

While images of poor, black residents stranded at the Superdome have lingered, many middle- and upper-class neighborhoods also were flooded but received far less attention.

“This storm did not show any discrimination socioeconomically. The water was everywhere,” said Mrs. Milling, who organized fundraising efforts for the initiative, including $70,000 for the charter flight.

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