On a sunny day in late November, Marisa Katz drives east from downtown New Orleans to Chalmatte, one of the areas most ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Houses stand forlornly along the road, their windows broken and insides gutted. Gas stations and stores are boarded up. There are no pedestrians in sight.

Katz, a 28-year-old attorney with New Orleans Legal Assistance (NOLAC), pulls into the edge of a shopping center next to a large white tent, one of the disaster relief centers set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She walks through the tent door past a pair of swaggering men in military fatigues. They are members of Blackwater USA, a private security contractor known for its work in Iraq, who have been hired to guard FEMA staff. Yet the people who trudge into the center are hardly threatening as they wait for hours to fill out applications for trailers and financial aid.

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