Residents Across Gulf Remember Katrina’s Might, Recovery

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 years after Katrina, New Orleans ward struggling to rebuild and draw people back.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With prayer and the somber ringing of church bells and the uplifting sounds of brass bands and music, residents across Mississippi and Louisiana Saturday will pay homage to those who died in Hurricane Katrina, thank those who came to rebuild and celebrate how far the region has come from that devastating day when the hurricane struck. His administration came under fire for inadequately maintaining the city’s poorly-built levees, which collapsed under the pressure of Katrina’s massive storm surge.It’s Friday morning—the eve of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans and assistant principal Joe Gilyot just welcomed a man many felt was in part responsible for the disaster that followed: George W.“I’m just an average guy with above average dreams — and my dream was to make my neighborhood look like the rest of the city,” he told the CBS Evening News.

Supply trucks with food and water took four days to reach tens of thousands of people sheltering at the New Orleans’ convention centre and on the freeways. “I hope you remember what I remember, the thousands who came here on a volunteer basis to provide food for the hungry and to help find shelter for those who had no home to live in,” he said. After becoming the first to rebuild on his block, Colton took things one step further: he tore off the roof of an old apartment building located in the abandoned area, renovated it and put on display a two-word sign outside. Bush painted a rosy picture of the recovery since Hurricane Katrina, saying the devastation had “sparked a decade of reform” in public schools and declaring, “New Orleans is back, and better than ever.” Visiting one of the facilities that became a charter school in those early years after the storm, Bush focused on education, citing the failings of the public schools before Hurricane Katrina, and the marked improvement since. Bush avoided parts of New Orleans that have yet to recover from the devastating storm, such as the Lower 9th Ward, where President Barack Obama mingled with hundreds of residents the day before. Bush did not address what made the flooding a rich target for critics of his administration: the weakness of the initial response to the disaster when federal, state, and city agencies were widely seen as doing far too little to help the stranded and displaced, and doing it much too slowly.

Many New Orleans residents make the distinction between those horrific first days and what was eventually a robust federal rebuilding effort, a difference Bush himself noted in his memoir, “Decision Points.” “I should have recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster,” he wrote. “All of us who are old enough to remember will never forget the images of our fellow Americans amid a sea of misery and ruin,” Bush said Friday. Current Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared back in the spring that the city is “no longer recovering, no longer rebuilding.” New Orleans has grown since Katrina but is still smaller than before the storm.

In Biloxi, clergy and community leaders were to gather at MGM Park for a memorial to Katrina’s victims and later that evening the park will host a concert celebrating the recovery. Katrina’s force caused a massive storm surge that scoured the Mississippi coast, pushed boats far inland and wiped houses off the map, leaving only concrete front steps to nowhere. They are the ones this week on the sidelines, watching everyone else remind themselves of how this city has come thundering back, while narratives of redemption and hope are spun so often that any other counterpoint to that gets lost. “I’ll be so glad when this week is over; I don’t want to see another Katrina memory for a long time,” Gilyot said. “I don’t need any more memories.

But in the city at large, where signs of recovery are just blocks away from neighborhoods where little progress can be seen, bitter memories of the days after the flood are still common. I have enough.” Bush’s visit was far more low-key than President Obama’s stop here on Thursday, with a fraction of media and only one protester, who had shown up at 7:45 in the morning, outside. “I’m standing here to bear witness to the fact that a lot of people still remember his incompetence,” Aaron Grant, 35, told me while holding a sign of Bush—looking out the window of Air Force One—that reads, YOU’RE EARLY COME BACK IN A WEEK. The overhaul of schools itself has been polarizing, as more than 8,500 employees of the old school system — most of them from the city’s black middle class — were laid off in the first year. “I guess I’m not feeling quite as magnanimous as some others are,” said Bob Mann, who was the communications director for Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, the governor 10 years ago. “The first week was awful, the second week was better, and after that they increasingly did a very good job of helping the region get back on its feet,” Mann said. “But that doesn’t absolve anyone, including the state, of their failures in that first week.

When I first found out Bush was coming here this week, I started asking everyone I came into contact with whether they were aware that the 43rd president was returning to the city it took him three weeks to visit back in 2005. In Mississippi, relief came so slowly that Biloxi’s Sun Herald newspaper published a front-page editorial, entitled “Help Us Now.” The storm set off a “confluence of blunders,” and Bush’s approval ratings never recovered, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University who wrote “The Great Deluge,” a detailed account of the first days after Katrina.

In addition to the former president the event will feature performances by the city’s “Rebirth Brass Band,” award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien and Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Wild Magnolias. Bush didn’t help his image by initially flying over the flooded city in Air Force One without touching down, then saying “Heckuva job, Brownie” to praise his ill-prepared Federal Emergency Management Agency director, Michael Brown, who resigned shortly thereafter. In a series of events in the week leading up to the actual anniversary, the city has held lectures, given tours of the levee improvements and released a resiliency plan.

Warren Easton has graduated 100 percent of its high school seniors during the past five years. “On this anniversary, the work of making a stronger and more hopeful New Orleans goes on,” Mr. Sims runs a boxing club in the neighbourhood to keep kids out of trouble. (Max Becherer/AP) With its elevation about four metres lower than that of the French Quarter, coupled with the geological evidence the city was sinking, rebuilding seemed both unsafe and ill-advised. The initial recommendation to turn the area into park and grasslands fueled the fears of longtime, primarily black residents that Katrina would be used to clear out the poor black population to make way for a richer whiter one. The displaced residents of the historical community, which included the likes of legendary musician Fats Domino, pushed back, refusing to accept the loss of their community. He said not everyone was happy about hosting Bush. “A lot of these kids are too young to remember,” Clark told me minutes before Bush took the stage. “Among the teaching staff, it’s been an issue.” That wasn’t the case for Grant, nor was it for Sebring and Mary Hooks, who traveled from out of state to be here this weekend in support of the black community.

Before an audience of students and officials, Laura Bush, whose library foundation provided a grant to the school, congratulated them on restoring the facility. “I’m thrilled that books are back on the shelves and in the hands of children where they belong,” she said. They held signs that read CHARGE GENOCIDE and GEORGE BUSH STILL HATES BLACK PEOPLE. “It’s so fucking disrespectful,” Hooks, 33, said. “How disrespectful, how arrogant. Every time, it was ‘We need a little more money.’ But the money was well spent, and this part of the world is coming back stronger than it was before,” Bush said.

Are you kidding me?” Gilyot, the assistant principal, lost everything: his house, his mother’s house, his brother’s house and his aunt’s house. Louisiana eventually turned all 57 schools under its control into independently run charters, publicly funded and accountable to education officials for results, but with autonomy in daily operations. “Isn’t it amazing?

Reliable 2015 stats are hard to come by, but essentially the black population decreased while the white population more than tripled with Hispanics close on their heels. My friend, a black woman, was aghast at the seemingly complete and total disconnect of an event that will be celebrated by people who were most likely not from here, and certainly not from that neighborhood. A few nights ago I dropped by the studio of my friend Alex Glustrom, a filmmaker whose documentary Big Charity details the needless and arguably criminal demise of Charity Hospital.

Derek Wood moonlights as a bike tour operator in the ward between working as a researcher at Tulane University, but has no intention of putting down roots here. “It’s just too boring,” he says. “There’s nothing to do here.” Historic front pages from Louisiana newspapers in The House of Dance and Feathers, Ronald Lewis’s small museum behind his house, tell Katrina’s story in a nutshell. (Colette Kennedy/CBC) David Gooch, who oversees the famous landmark restaurant Galatoire, says receipts increased by about $5 a person after Katrina, a result he puts down to people wanting to enjoy themselves a bit more after going through such an ordeal. “They want me to put a face on it when my community is incomplete,” he says. “Just let the world know we are civilized people down here, and we believe in what must be done.” She struggles with making it to her doctor’s office to refill her anti-anxiety medication because just being around other people sometimes is just too much. You won’t see her parading or second-lining or ribbon-cutting this week, the same way you won’t see hundreds and thousands more who like her, would prefer that this just all go away. “I’ve been in my house all week,” Mary Jefferson, 55, told me outside the school on Friday morning, stopping to chat with Grant and compliment him on his Bush sign. “I just haven’t dealt with it.”

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