Bush returns to New Orleans, a low point in his presidency, for 10th …

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Associated Press Photographers Reflect on Katrina Coverage.

NEW ORLEANS — With Hurricane Katrina headed for the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, The Associated Press deployed dozens of staffers to support its New Orleans and Mississippi bureaus.Preservation Hall, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, is a lowlit capsule of whirring ceiling fans and crumbling walls – cosily monochrome save for the Exit signs in red neon.President Barack Obama on Thursday heralded the progress New Orleans has made rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina battered the area 10 years ago but said more needed to be done to overcome poverty and inequality. Bill Haber and another AP photographer, the late Dave Martin, had been shooting around the city during the storm when they noticed water bubbling up from the sewers — an ominous sign of the flooding to come.

At the front (there is no stage) Shannon Powell, “the King of Treme”, and the Preservation All Stars are serving jazz as hooch – neat blasts of Panama Rag and Mood Indigo that go straight to my head. “Joy” is the single word I scrawl in my notebook – and it sums up the spirit of the city they call the Big Easy, where jazz was born. You inspired all of America.” — President Barack Obama, during a visit to the city 10 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. “Erika has really, really visited us with a vengeance.” — Claude Weekes, a police official on the Caribbean island of Dominica, where the tropical storm dumped 15 inches of rain. “He played the game with passion, integrity and joy, never forgetting how great an influence he had on his legions of fans, young and old.” — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, on ex-hoops star Darryl Dawkins, who died Thursday at 58. And after walking door to door in the historic Treme section of a city reborn from tragedy, he cautioned that “just because the housing is nice doesn’t mean our job is done.” In his remarks at the community center, Obama blended the same themes of resilience and renewal that he drew from encounters with the sturdy residents he met along Magic Street and at other locations. Driving out toward eastern New Orleans where they’d heard the inundation was intense, they stopped on an overpass from which they could see Canal Street. Beyond the walls of this trad jazz venue on St Peter St it is business as it has always been in one of the most effervescent neighbourhoods in the world – Oysters Rockefeller are slipping down in Antoine’s on St Louis St and pavement combos of astonishing talent are turning tourists into marionettes on Royal.

As a presidential candidate in 2008 Mr Obama sharply criticised Republican president George W Bush for his administration’s handling of the aftermath of the storm. She pronounced herself a fan of the man, saying he’d handled “a rough road.” Chase — who’s known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine” — said, “That’s all you have to do: handle what’s handed to you,” voicing what could be a credo for the city. The storm “laid bare a deeper tragedy” of structural inequalities that left “too many people, especially poor people, especially people of colour, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing,” he said. Obama was clearly energized by his visits, at one point breaking into a song from “The Jeffersons” sitcom after meeting a young woman who calls herself “Ouisie.” He stopped for fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and pronounced the resulting grease stain on his suit a good indication that he’d enjoyed his stay in the city.

With one-and-half years left in his presidency and a slew of recent racially charged incidents of gun violence and police use of excessive force against minorities, Mr Obama has spent increasing amounts of time publicly addressing racial inequality. While in New Orleans, Mr Obama had lunch with a group of young black men as part of his “My Brother’s Keeper” programme, which he has said he plans to continue after leaving office in 2017. Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist and New Orleans native whose father was stranded during flooding from the storm, said the city has begun to address inequality and make greater strides toward recovery. Between 4am and 5am on August 29, 2015, the Lower Ninth Ward bore the brunt of what would become the most costly natural disaster in the history of America, as floodwater surged down the Industrial Canal and smashed through its flood walls, engulfing the neighbourhood and killing dozens (precise figures for the Lower Ninth are not known; in total Katrina claimed more than 1,800 lives). “A lot of folks are looking at the television and saying, ‘Is this America?’ ” wrote one newspaper columnist as images of makeshift lifeboats and rooftop rescues flashed across the world.

Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops, inside the Superdome and at the convention center dominated news coverage as Katrina came to symbolize government failure at every level. The story that unfolds on Fox’s pedal-powered history lesson is about neglect on the part of the outside world and the “self-sufficiency” of the people, both before and after Katrina.

Bazemore arrived in Gulfport before the storm and stayed for a couple of weeks, spending much of that time alongside Jackson-based reporter Holbrook Mohr, known as Bert. “We were living in a hotel with no running water or electricity for a while,” Bazemore said. “Most of the time, we slept in our clothes in the car in the parking lot.” He went to visit the Biloxi neighborhood where his step-grandfather used to live. “It was completely gone. The area’s first settled population, in the 19th century, were European immigrants and free blacks who were definitively self-sufficient, growing crops, raising livestock and fishing in the river and surrounding swamps. The area is filled with vacant lots where houses used to stand, so overgrown that local residents sometimes refer to it as the wilderness and worry about snakes hiding in the grass. People still fish and there’s still a bucolic air to the area immediately below the river levee, made all the more incongruous by the view westward to the skyscrapers of New Orleans’ Central Business District just four miles away.

Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, cautioned against slapping too happy a face on New Orleans, saying “rebuilding since the storm favors privileged private enterprise and this illusion of recovery is not progress.” “I think we have a long way to go,” said Lisa Ross, 52, an appraiser. Nothing that resembled homes, just the frames.” One day, “I had gone out earlier and shot a picture of a guy wading through the sometime chest-deep water with a dog. Fox invites me into his “own little slice of heaven” and under a blue sky sketched with mare’s tail clouds we freewheel down the grassy levee to the wooden shotgun house he shares with a friend. Both looked miserable,” Bazemore recalled. “He told us he lived back where it was all flooded and there was one rowboat to get ‘all those ladies and children’ out.” “When we saw those women getting into that beat up old boat and the expressions on their faces, it was a situation we kind of lucked up on, but we worked hard to get into.

The devastation wrought by Katrina was not entirely an act of God – for decades before 2005 the wetlands buffering the city had been disastrously degraded by industrial incursions such as the MRGO. Some of the first pictures I made were of his boat pulling up to a house and the people were stepping into the boat.” Gay remembers coming across people who just wanted help. “We could have taken a carload at a time, but we told them the best way to help them was to tell their story, share their story and fill that void.” Gay also spent significant time at the city’s convention center, which was another unofficial shelter.

Otherwise the impression is of orderly streets of rebuilt villas shaded with porches and palm trees – not to mention two century-old glass-and-gingerbread houses built in the style of a pilot house on a Mississippi steamboat. He has rebuilt the museum with the help of volunteers and since Katrina there’s been a resurgence of the Mardi Gras Indians tradition. “You know what makes the bicycle tour a success? Now, thanks to all the unregulated development along the Mississippi Delta, it has been reduced to a brackish lake, studded with the stumps of dead trees.

By the water’s edge an old guy named Walter reminisces about the days before Hurricane Betsy when he hunted raccoons here: “We used to catch ’em live from the trees. The covers were pulled off.” I am left with a haunting memory of Marsalis playing What a Wonderful World (a song forever associated with New Orleans’ most famous son, Louis Armstrong) on the trombone.

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