The Third Anniversary of Katrina

It's been a year and a half since I visited New Orlean's 9th Ward, but the images of devastation I witnessed there are still seared in my mind. After I took this picture I found myself wondering who used to sit out on that porch, watching neighborhood life go by. I still wonder if whoever used to live there, less than a football field away from a broken levee, has managed to return to the city.

This morning I watched a History Channel show about the disaster with my kids. In the part of the show talking about why historically so many people came to New Orleans in the first place , I don't know why I thought it might maybe reference the role of slavery and cotton in New Orlean's growth. Instead there were merely references to what a great port location the area is and how that's why people wanted to settle there. Nothing about the slaves being shipped in or the cotton they produced being shipped out. Indeed, the show ended up talking more about the engineering failures of the levees rather than the human impact of Katrina.

I'm glad that we were back home in Chicago this summer, we went to the Field Museum's exhibit, Nature Unleashed. It had a section about hurricanes, in particular, Hurricane Katrina. It was a fantastically done exhibit precisely because of it's emphasis on the storm's impact on people. One part of the exhibit had audio of survivors of Katrina. Another had gigantic photos of devastated homes in the 9th Ward along with artifacts pulled from those homes and the stories of the people who had lived there. Still another section of the exhibit had art-therapy photos from school-age children that were trying to deal with what they went through during Katrina.

Today, in memory of what they've learned about Katrina, my boys drew their own pictures of children on rooftops waiting for helicopters to rescue them. They drew the water washing away the levees and, as with everything in their world, my sons wanted to know, "Why?" Why could levees fail? How could people be left on rooftops with no aid? How could the horrors in the Superdome happen?

Who can forget this:

And I wonder, with the approach of Hurricane Gustav, why, three years later, is New Orleans not protected and prepared? Why are the same mistakes being made in levee construction?

As you go about your Labor Day weekend celebrations, take a moment to say a prayer for New Orleans. I pray that the entire area stays unscathed. I don't want to see images of another flooded city, black people on top of rooftops, pleading for their lives as helicopters zoom by. I don't want more children to have to be in art therapy over the fact that their homes got swept away with only the concrete porches left as a reminder of what once was.


I wonder, too, why people were left on rooftops with nothing but the clothes on their backs, why many of them were never rescued at all and died agonizing fear-filled deaths as they tried to rescue their families.

I especially want to know why Federal aid was so late in coming and so inadequate that today the people of that American city are virtually in the same situation as they were three years ago while there has been no shortage of help provided to other American cities to recover from disasters.

New Orleans has my prayers now as Gustav approaches. I hope her people will be spared any more misery.
Liz Dwyer said…
Exactly! Injustice, corruption, racism and disdain for the poor all contributed. Unfortunately, it seems those factors are still at play and it's absolutely immoral.
Anonymous said…
I read an article about New Orleans a few days ago, and as Heart says the authorities have done very little to help all the devastated victims. They're having to repair their lives as best they can while everyone else looks the other way. A similar disaster seems so likely I think people would be well-advised to move out of the city for good.
uglyblackjohn said…
The problem(s) with NOLA are more complex than simply "race".

We may have the same problem with many people who live month-to-month (or day-to-day) being stuck in the city while waiting for their checks. I have to put my tenants on busses and collect their checks for them to evacuate. I have the addresses where they plan to evacuate and have to promise to have their homes livable before they return.

The situation in NOLA during Katrina involved about 70,000 people. Millions from the area actually did heed the warnings and evacuated when they were told.
The delay in assistance was an ill-concieved plan to dicourage people from staying in the city. (Repair work becomes hindered by too many people needing help and too few being able to help).

Evacuations from the Florida panhandle to South East Texas have already begun. Many people still refuse to leave because their checks don't come until Wednessday...
Just a trivial side note.. I know something about the socioeconomics of New Orleans, but I have never considered it a poor city because of the incredible richness of the culture(s) there. Even the buildings seemed alive and there was fantastic music and fabulous food everywhere. Most of the people had a unique kind of spirit, a deep pride in being from that beautiful city on the Mississippi.

If America could be said to have a heart, I'm pretty sure it would be NOLA.

It should be deeply disturbing to all Americans that Gustav is following in Katrina's horrific footsteps. I hope that everyone will do everything possible to save them this time.
Anonymous said…
I see the authorities are taking no chances this time, evacuating the entire city, imposing a curfew and doubling the security forces to deter looters. And Bush has got the message that he needs to be monitoring the situation closely and not leaving other people to pick up the pieces. I just hope it's not as devastating as everyone expects it to be.
Jen said…
I was just discussing this with D, this morning.

Why do we have army corps of engineers over in Iraq when we haven't solved the problems of the levees, nor rebuilt?

Guess the citizens of NOLA just don't have the same clout as the oil companies and their needs.

Ya think?

I also wrote on this yesterday. I'm going to keep posting rescue/resource info should that be necessary.
Mango Mama said…
I, too, am in prayer for the folks along the Gulf Coast. I have also traveled to NOLA a few times over the last 2 years and included photos taken as recently as last December in a slideshow on my blog.

I've been checking the news all day, staying in touch with my people currently living down in NOLA and all have evacuated. I do think the city/state is doing a much better job this time, but thousands paid an unbelievable price for the lessons learned, so that the we may never find ourselves so unprepared again.
Liz Dwyer said…
I just saw a story that says the storm may be weakening a bit so I hope that's true. I'm SO glad that so many people have managed to be evacuated and that no chances are being taken. Bush still says stuff like, "This is a dangerous storm!" that leaves me going, "Duh!" but at least 2 million people have been evacuated, thank God.

Wow, that's quite a name... So sad that folks are waiting on a check. But that fear of not having any money is real for so many people. It can make you do things that seemingly make no sense whatsoever. Yes, I agree that problems there are quite complex but I still think that the historical legacy of racism as well as current day racism play a huge role in folks educational and economic opportunities...thus, people waiting on checks.

Yes! That's a GREAT point. We tend to think of wealth only in terms of money, but really, people have so many other resources to draw upon. The spiritual, social, cultural, and family resources are what many "rich" people would surely wish they could have.

I'm so glad people have been evacuated and the storm is not as strong as it was yesterday. I hope it weakens even more overnight.

Seriously, three years and they're not finished rebuilding? It's immoral. The cynical side of me says they're only doing as much as they are because it's an election year.

Mango Mama,
I'm so glad the people you know have managed to evacuate. I hope they're able to come back soon to unscathed homes. I've wanted to go back but haven't had the chance. It is such a unique and beautiful city.
Karen said…
The Katrina situation was and remains horrifying. It is too bad they are not better prepared this time for Gustav.

On the other hand, thank God they've had the sense to mandate evacuation early. . .
Anonymous said…
I was also watching a program - and I can't remember who said it - that Amtrak had offered free rides out of the city and someone from Nagin's office said it wasn't necessary. Ultimately the buck stops with the President and we have that photo of him and McCain holding a birthday cake and Condelezza shoe shopping. Why was it that some celebrities with money like Sean Penn was able to physically get there and rescue people but the gov't felt guarding the oil was more important?
1969 said…
What has truly irked me this weekend was the entire Republican convention and our commander in chief acting so concerned over Gustav.

While I am happy they learned from their past mistakes with Katrina....I can't keep watching their actions without remembering the news that GW was flying over and past New Orleans while folks lay dying in the Superdome.

I can't forget the people whose homes have not ben rebuilt, who have still not received their FEMA checks or who have been unable to return....three years later.

And why are there still parishes where the levees have not been reinforced?

Kanye said a mouthful then and it still rings true in my ears.
Jameil said…
I watched When the Levees Broke in its entirety this weekend. Very poignant tribute to the failures of the government and the resulting impact on the people involved.
Anonymous said…
It is a bloody shame, to be sure. What happened in the midst of it was awful enough, but our pathetically inadequate response was worse.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thank goodness Gustav wasn't a CAT 5 when it made landfall because who knows what could have happened to the city. I hope that just because the damage isn't as catastrophic that people will still heed future evacuation warnings.

That birthday cake photo represents so many injustices and wrongs. Even in Bush's speech today, it's still all about oil and then stumping for offshore drilling. Only one sentence about people.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt as far as his concern till I read his comments this morning. He focused almost exclusively on oil production and he gave a hard sell for more offshore drilling. It made me feel sick.

I want to know why there are places where the levees aren't rebuilt either. It's wrong. Totally wrong!

Such a good documentary and such a tribute. I cried so hard when I saw it. I think it should be required viewing for everybody.

The response was horrible and it made me think even more about the role the government is supposed to play, the role we trust them to play. The lack of response was the ultimate breach of contract.

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