Hurricane Katrina: 10 Years Later

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Church Bells Toll as US Gulf Coast Marks 10 Years Since Katrina.

From the Lower Ninth Ward to the Superdome, New Orleans observed the 10th anniversary of devastating Hurricane Katrina, paying tribute to its victims and homage to the city’s resilience in the face of disaster.

It was the culmination of a week of reflection about a storm that left 80 percent of the Louisiana city famed for its Mardi Gras under water and displaced 130,000 residents. One minute, you’re 16 years old, in a three bedroom house in Texas with 18 other New Orleanians, watching your childhood home wallow under the floodwaters as every possible screen available broadcasts breaking footage of Hurricane Katrina. Church bells rang and brass bands played as people across the storm-ravaged coast remembered the past and looked to the future. “Some people said that we shouldn’t come back.

On Saturday, dignitaries made speeches to honor the 1,500 who died, brass bands marched through the streets and neighbors gathered for block parties across New Orleans, where the mood shifted in turns from somber to reflective to celebratory. “It is kind of bittersweet. Then the next, you’re 26 years old and you live in the UK, and you’re working in the newsroom of a well-known fashion magazine, it’s been ten years since that moment and that storm – that defining point – is both literally and metaphorically thousands of miles away.

Clinton said residents of New Orleans have much to be proud of in their achievements since the devastation of Katrina but should now rededicate themselves to eradicating the disparities of income, education and health. But in Mississippi, former Governor Haley Barbour, author of America’s Great Storm: Leading Through Hurricane Katrina received plaudits from all sides for his decisive, non-partisan leadership and political clout, which secured $24 billion in disaster relief from Congress. (Related: Protecting a New Generation of Poisoned Kids After Katrina.) Talking from his home in Mississippi, he describes what Katrina taught him about leadership; explains how a new word, “slabbed,” was coined; and why he still stands by President Bush. Still standing.” The storm killed more than 1,800 people and caused $151 billion in damage, in one of the country’s deadliest and most costly natural disasters.

For us, Katrina looked like another run-of-the-mill storm (seeing as we’ve been around the Gulf Coast since the early 19th century, hurricanes are an earned afterthought.) But by that afternoon, whispers of flooding streets and leaking canal walls began to fill the air. Dignitaries in the hard-hit city laid wreaths and eulogized the the storm’s 1,800 dead, while celebrating the recovery of the city and the resiliency of its inhabitants.

Bush visited the city on Friday, accompanied by his wife, Laura, whose library foundation helped rebuild what is the oldest public school in New Orleans. Louis was damaged but inhabitable after the storm. “I didn’t go through what all the other people did.” Saturday was a day to remember what “all the other people” went through.

But no one, from those of us crowded around the TV to the radio announcers on WWL, could imagine the hell that was about to be released upon our city. The Bush administration was roundly criticized in the days following the storm for a slow emergency response to the thousands of people needing shelter, supplies and security amid the flooding.

Max Mayfield, called to say, “This is going to be a Camille-like storm.” Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi in 1969: one of only three storms ever to come ashore as a Category 5 hurricane. I wasn’t my co-worker, who buried Vera Smith under a plastic tarp at a junction after the police knocked on her front door and told her to steal whatever she needed to survive from the WalMart down the street. And brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future.” “The project of rebuilding here wasn’t simply to restore the city as it had been, it was to build a city as it should be,” he told a crowd of 600. “A city where everyone, no matter who they are or what they look like or how much money they’ve got, has an opportunity to make it.”

He weighed into a debate that has bubbled up during the Katrina anniversary about whether New Orleans’ post-Katrina story is one of a city resurrected or of people left behind. But after the news media started referring to this as a storm like Camille we had a hugely improved evacuation. (Related: Beyond Katrina: 7 Portraits of Grit and Determination) We thought Camille was the gold standard: 200 mph winds, with about 200 tornadoes. Along a main street in Mid-City, colorful flags swayed in the breeze from 52 wooden poles arranged across a green space as a commemoration by sculptor Michael Manjarris. She was a storm of equality — no matter what you went through, how great or little your suffering, she found a way to tear her teeth into your psyche.

In a sour note to the anniversary, no one showed up at a planned hand-holding ceremony that was to have been held at the Superdome, which became to symbolize the chaos and helplessness that engulfed New Orleans after the flooding. For several sweltering days people were virtually trapped inside the Superdome without adequate food or water and little communication with the outside world. We had tens of thousands of houses where that was all that was left. (Related: New Orleans Door to Door) President Bush flew to Mobile, Alabama to meet with you and other governors. After the speeches were done, a parade snaked through the neighborhood while music played from boom boxes and people sold water from ice chests under the hot sun. He came back Saturday just to find old faces from the neighborhood but he couldn’t bring himself to see the vacant lot where his house used to be. “The family home is what kept us together and it’s gone,” he said.

When we were walking out to get on a helicopter that would take President Bush and I to Mississippi, the President made that remark— “Good job, Brownie!” — to Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, which would be interpreted by people as showing he was out of touch with what was happening. She recounted her post-Katrina experiences — fear and thirst in a sweltering Superdome, eventual transport to Kansas — with humor, grace and at times defiance. As we went along, President Bush leaned as far forward as federal law would permit to give us the maximum support after Congress passed special emergency disaster legislation in December.

In a show of solidarity with other states on the Gulf of Mexico damaged by Katrina, a group called Gulf South Rising set up shop in Louis Armstrong Park at the edge of New Orleans’s French Quarter. “The seas are rising and so are we,” read banners hung on either side of the gateway to the park. Speakers included representatives from Black Lives Matter, a movement formed after a series of unarmed black men were killed by white police officers over the past year.

Compare the looting in Mississippi to other places; it was a very small fraction. (Related: 10 Years After Katrina, Some Are ‘Homeless in Their Own Homes’) You were widely praised for your lobbying efforts in Washington after Katrina. When people hear where I’m from, they’ll ask questions, but most of the time I just don’t have the energy to explain how it feels to clean out the ruined home of a family friend and have a tour bus full of “disaster tourists” stop while you move trash into the front yard. I’ll never forget one day in November, I walked into the Capitol, and a voice said, “Haley?” I looked over and it was Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts: liberal, Northeastern Democrat. After three levels of government left us to rot in stagnant floodwaters, after we buried almost 2,000 of our own citizens, resilience is an understatement. Learning how to live with the reality of that ancient saying, ‘Nothing lasts.’ That day ten years ago, Katrina swept through, whispering in our ears: ‘Sometimes you just don’t know what you got.

Second thing: Be open and inform the public through the press what the reality is, what you’re trying to do about it, how you’re trying to do it, and tell the truth. There’s nothing more damaging to the ability to lead than if people think you’re not telling the truth, or if they learn you’re not telling the truth.

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