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The Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. 2007 Annual Conference & Exhibition is just around the corner, and there are lots of good reasons to attend it.
This issue of Business Insurance features a special report previewing the conference and things to see and do while in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, many people--including us at BI--questioned whether RIMS could hold the 2007 conference there.
Could New Orleans host any large conference, with so much damage and understaffing at hotels and restaurants? Would the city recover quickly enough to accommodate the 10,000 or so who flock to the insurance industry's biggest gathering?
Nearly 20 months after Katrina devastated one of America's most charming cities, the answer is unequivocally "yes."
On a recent trip to New Orleans and coastal Mississippi, I saw firsthand some of the damage the hurricane caused. I also saw that many parts of New Orleans are back to the way they were before the storm. New Orleans' population is about half of its pre-Katrina number, and many people who left are probably not coming back. And staffing does remain a challenge for many of the city's popular attractions, but the good news is that most of them are open again.
Nearly two years after the storm, though, restoration in the Gulf has a long, long way to go.
The last hurricane resembling Katrina to strike that area was Camille in 1969. How long after Camille did it take for the area to look the way it did before? A friend who experienced both storms, and who lost a home in Pass Christian, Miss., during Katrina, told me it took 27 years. The local government of Pass Christian, only an hour's drive from New Orleans, is still trying to determine where to rebuild the city--Katrina literally obliterated it.
It's hard to imagine how any structures along the Gulf could survive Katrina, but amazingly some did. In fact, many buildings remain standing in New Orleans. They are not all inhabitable, however, as the flood and resulting mold have forced their tenants to relocate or retreat to trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA "trailer parks" dot the landscape in eastern New Orleans and all the way into Mississippi.
Further east of New Orleans, the devastation is nearly total. All that remains of many homes and businesses are the concrete slabs on which they were built. Much of the formerly lush vegetation was killed by salt water. Incredibly, piles of trash and debris are still waiting to be removed from residential and commercial areas.
RIMS deserves applause for its commitment to return to New Orleans, which desperately needs the economic boost that the conference will provide.
Also noteworthy is RIMS' planned community service day on April 29, in which the society will bus volunteers to the Lakeview neighborhood, one of the hardest-hit areas, to help residents return to their homes. For information, please visit www.rims.org/communityservice.