The Musicians’ Village Brings Music Back To New Orleans After Katrina

27 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Katrina: Lessons from the monster storm I will never forget.

NEW ORLEANS — The despair uncorked by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago quickly became a symbol of so much that was wrong with America — stark racial and economic inequality, government’s inaction in the face of enormous social problems, and a deep sense of vulnerability and lack of preparedness for the next disaster.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says New Orleans is “moving forward” a decade after Hurricane Katrina dealt it a devastating blow, and has become an example of what can happen when people rally around each other to build a better future out of the despair of tragedy.It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, when the levees failed and the city flooded in one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

But the city and its residents have rebuilt in the decade since, and that resurgence has been captured on film for a new six-part docuseries marking the anniversary. Mr Obama will travel to Louisiana to mark the rebirth of a city eulogised by Tennessee Williams as the “last frontier of Bohemia,” but which in August 2005 became a Hobbesian dystopia of death and looting. New Orleans, Here & Now brings together six filmmakers connected to the city, highlighting stories from real people living in a post-Katrina New Orleans.

He was delivering remarks at a newly opened community centre in a largely African-American neighbourhood, the Lower 9th Ward that was among those hardest hit by the storm. In prepared remarks released by the White House Thursday morning, Obama plans to say that “what the storm revealed was another tragedy — one that had been brewing for decades. That includes an oyster farmer, a brass band, a quartet of high school seniors who were just 8 years old when Katrina hit, and New Orleans native Tiffany Junot’s path to becoming the World Boxing Council welterweight world champion. Americans — almost congenitally imbued with optimism and a sense of invulnerability — watched shocked as stranded survivors waited day after day on rooftops for government help that was painfully slow to come. When I go back to the 24 hours before the storm hit, I remember saying on air, “This is the worst storm to hit the worst possible location.” It became a monster category 5 overnight as it churned in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is still struggling to recover. “Not only was it a terrible natural disaster, but it was a fundamental failure on the part of government to respond rapidly,” Obama told WWL-TV of New Orleans in an interview Wednesday. That message “would resonate more with the city’s white residents than with its black residents,” said Michael Henderson, of Louisiana State University.

No one goes in at half time and wins a trophy.” The Obama administration has tried: HUD has doubled the number of vouchers available in the city, providing assistance for more than 17,000 households, and it has fully restored 98 percent of the public housing units damaged on the Gulf Coast a decade ago. Strong local support for Mr Obama and his Democrats will prevent a backlash, even if his message “does not fully mesh with many residents’ own views or experiences,” said Mr Henderson.

But it must still confront a persistent series of societal ills — some of them new, others decades-old — including a high illiteracy and unemployment rate as well as a battered transportation system. Mr Obama is expected to echo words he spoke as a senator: “New Orleans had long been plagued by structural inequality that left too many people, especially poor people of colour, without good jobs or affordable healthcare or decent housing. I remember getting choked up on air thinking about the thousands of people who didn’t leave the area because it was too late or they just couldn’t find the means to get out.

Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops or inside the Superdome or the convention center dominated the news coverage as Katrina came to symbolize government failure at every level. While the last decade has seen an influx of wealthy new residents to New Orleans, many complain that gentrification has left them by the wayside, transforming public schools into charter schools and pushing housing beyond reach.

I also remember a fellow meteorologist sending me the now famous “doomsday statement” written by National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Ricks: HURRICANE KATRINA…A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH…RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969. Meteorologists had never seen a statement like that, and they haven’t seen one like it since.I read that warning on air in front of that angry, swirling satellite image behind me. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama will also stress the need for the federal government and communities nationwide to start investing in “resilience” so that they are ready for the more intense storms and wildfires a warming planet will bring. “There’s no denying what scientists tell us, which is that there’s reason to be concerned about these storms getting worse and more violent,” Earnest said.

Bobby Jindal, a possible presidential contender in 2016, protested Obama’s use of the appearance to espouse “the divisive political agenda of liberal environmental activism.” Jindal has expressed some doubt about how much human behaviour is influencing climate change, said the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is a time to mourn the loss of loved ones — not a time for politics. “A lecture on climate change would do nothing to improve upon what we are already doing,” Jindal told Obama in a letter dated Wednesday. “Quite the opposite; it would distract from the losses we have suffered, diminish the restoration effort we have made and overshadow the miracle that has been the Louisiana comeback.” In interviews this week, top officials said the Katrina experience has changed the way the government conducts its disaster relief business: It now provides disaster funds without demanding buildings be replicated without changes; it is easier for groups to draw on volunteers for help; and new federal construction projects must adhere to stricter flood standards that take climate change projections into account.

Some people can’t evacuate because of transportation issues or because they can’t afford to pay for gas, food or a hotel for a several days, even weeks. Donovan recalled that years after Katrina, he was with Obama on Air Force One discussing how to help communities rebuild after Superstorm Sandy battered the Northeast in 2012. People can also get “storm fatigue,” meaning they are just tired of weather events disrupting their lives and don’t want to leave their homes over and over.

Days after Katrina hit, when he was still serving as a senator, Obama went to Houston with former presidents Clinton and Bush to visit survivors of the storm. Bush’s administration had ignored New Orleans residents because they were black, a notion that had become so popular that rapper Kanye West blurted out during a telethon to help Katrina survivors, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” “The ineptitude was color blind,” Obama said. “But what must be said is that whoever was in charge of planning and preparing for the worst case scenario appeared to assume that every American has the capacity to load up their family in an SUV, fill it up with $100 worth of gasoline, stick some bottled water in the trunk, and use a credit card to check into a hotel on safe ground.” In rebuilding, Donovan said, “You have to pay special attention to the lowest income and most vulnerable,” because they are the ones who always suffer the most from disasters. “He does not state this in terms of race,” said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. “He sees this as, ‘Let’s demonstrate what America can do, not just what we can’t do.’ ” Darren Alridge, a 24-year-old teacher’s assistant and after-school counselor at YEP, is among those who received help. My worry is that the millions of new residents along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts who have never experienced a hurricane might not be preparing for one. As a forecaster, the only thing I can do is remind people to be alert, stay focused and know what you’re going to do if there’s a storm on the way.

The future president’s decision to add hot sauce to the house gumbo before tasting it prompted a sharp rebuke from the restaurant’s owner, Leah Chase. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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