Bush Returns to New Orleans for 10th Anniversary of Katrina

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is vibrant but wary.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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.Hurricane Katrina made worldwide headlines in 2005, when it wreaked havoc across whole communities in the southern states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. “Today this new community centre stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city.David Herzenberg is back in the city he once called home – back to the place that is blighted and dysfunctional and infuriating yet at the same time magical and musical and wonderfully distinctive.

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 are an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand,” he said.

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. 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. 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. A failure of the government to look out for its own citizens,” he told local residents in New Orleans. “But what that storm revealed was another tragedy, one that had been brewing for decades.

Haber, who retired four years after the storm, is particularly proud of one photograph he took of a woman walking through chest-deep water covered in a toxic sheen — an important point to make about the dangerously poor water quality. 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. Although precise numbers aren’t available, at least 986 Louisiana residents died from drowning, injuries, heart conditions and other causes, nearly half of them 75 or older. 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.

More than 1 million people from the region were displaced – sometimes for weeks or months as they decided whether they could salvage their moldy, water-logged homes. The New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, visited Atlanta and Houston last week to meet with the displaced, thank the cities for their hospitality and tout the Big Easy’s recovery. “Y’all can come home whenever y’all want,” he told former residents at a church service, according to NPR . 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. Carl Lindahl, a University of Houston professor, said that two sections of the displaced population in particular tended not to return: parents of young children, who felt Houston was safer and had better schools, and the elderly, who believed New Orleans lacked social services.

They live in neighborhoods pockmarked with poverty and still-abandoned properties; they drive over cracked, warped and pothole-filled streets to get to their homes. “Initially, I didn’t think I was coming back,” Herzenberg said on a sweltering August day as he oversaw a small crew of workers on the corner of Alvar and North Derbigny streets. 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.

Many residents donated time, money or goods to help them. “The initial arrival brought out the best in the city,” Lindahl said. “It extended for about two months afterwards. 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. Within a year there was a response linking the New Orleanians to crime and claiming there was a spike in murders.” Lindahl said that some found themselves overlooked for jobs because they had a New Orleans 504 cellphone area code. Twelve months after the disaster, at a meeting in a church in an affluent part of Houston, hundreds of white residents demanded the mayor send the “Katrina illegal immigrants” back to Louisiana, Texas Monthly reported . If I could find 10 more houses in this area, I’d buy them in a heartbeat.” Drive around today and you’ll find those cracked streets and abandoned houses and vacant properties.

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. The Data Center, a research center that has exhaustively chronicled New Orleans’ rebirth, notes that the city’s poverty rate has risen to pre-Katrina levels “and is now a crushingly high 27 percent.” Violent crime rates are still roughly double national averages, despite a reduction from pre-Katrina levels. Like the rest of the country, the city is also contending with the hangover of the Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009 – coming right as the New Orleans’ economy was regaining its footing. 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? You can’t walk out of the bar with your cocktail or beer.” For Sanyika, “The most negative aspect of Houston for most New Orleanians is the transportation.

It’s a very different kind of taste,” he said. “A Texas gumbo doesn’t taste quite the same.” The 73-year-old still visits New Orleans regularly. “When I leave there is always a sadness,” he said. “New Orleans is in your soul, your heart, your roots, it anchors who you are and you take it with you wherever you go.” So our economy was weak compared to the nation pre-Katrina, and now it’s strong compared to the nation.” From his vantage point on the 34th floor of a downtown building, Michael Hecht leads the development group Greater New Orleans Inc. and is prepared with a list of economic accolades that show the city’s high rankings in start-ups per capita, education reform, favorable business climate and a host of other measures. Looking out his windows, he can literally see the growth – where crisp and brightly colored housing developments, medical centers and retail operations spring from what once was New Orleans’ decay. “Katrina turned everybody into an entrepreneur,” he said, adding: “There is something going on here with entrepreneurship.

They have since been fortified by $14.5 billion in federal and state money, and experts say the protection they provide is substantially stronger than it was. 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.

And he had a deep connection to his hometown; his mother was even director of the city’s sewerage and water board, which worked to drain the flood waters from New Orleans. At least with hurricanes, you have a few days to leave.” Asked if he thought his fellow citizens actually would leave if and when the next big storm approaches, Landrieu, the mayor, said he feels good they would. Even so, he acknowledges the tight spot he’s in. “If you don’t sound an alarm, people say you didn’t warn them,” said Landrieu, who was lieutenant governor when Katrina hit and who comes from a prominent New Orleans political family (his father Moon was a former mayor and U.S. Senate). “If you sound it too much, they say, ‘I won’t listen to you.’” “You cannot reconstruct a complete city that’s been destroyed in 10 years,” he said. “Even though, aspirationally, you would hope that you can do that, it just really, really, really takes a while to build a city that’s going to stand for the ages.”

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