New Orleans, 1 A.K.
The alarm on the cell phone I never had before Hurricane Katrina went off this morning at 5:15. There are so many things that are going through my head today, I don't even know where to go with this. Every time I touch that phone, I'm reminded that it's an artifact of Hurricane Katrina -- of the need to communicate with people in new ways from the diaspora. A lot of us carry around Katrina phones, but that's a petty observation.
So many things were different then. I was married and had a house note. Today, I'm divorced and I'm a renter again.
Should I recite facts? Bill Quigley, the Brookings Institution, and others have already done it so well, and besides, the facts don't even begin to tell the story of each and every one of hundreds of thousands of lives that were devastated and transformed forever, by Hurricane Katrina, by levees that failed, and by government negligence and incompetence at every level -- but especially at the executive level in Washington.
That negligence and incompetence of the White House continues today, exacerbating a continuously unfolding tragedy. WWL's Garland Robinette said last week that 300,000 businesses in Louisiana are failing. Meanwhile, The Times-Picayune is reporting today that the SBA had dispersed through August 18th a mere $174.9 million of $1.26 billion in approved SBA loans -- a year after those loans were needed!
Yes, the unmentionable person is in town today. Velvet_rut suggested that the press should deliberately not report his activities -- that news camera operators should protest his patronizing photo op day by filming each other instead.
As I started moving around the house this morning, I was thinking about all of the people who, one year ago, would in the course of hours be lost in the blast of the levees exploding.
Yes, notwithstanding arguments I've made previously, I'm asserting here in stronger language than I've used before that the levees were blown -- not with dynamite, but with water -- blasted apart by years of criminal incompetence and negligence at all levels of government, but the real blame can be laid at the feet of the Corps of Engineers.
Other people who survived the initial torrent would in a matter of hours be frantically sloshing around the insides of their homes as the floodwaters raced to claim them. They would gather their loved ones and try to escape any way they could. Many made it into their attics. Over a thousand people would not.
Hundreds of thousands are still suffering one of the greatest tragedies to strike this nation -- and it's a tragedy that could have been avoided. It's a tragedy that we have perpetrated upon ourselves. All of us can be blamed for this tragedy which took decades to unfold. We as citizens (not just here in New Orleans) failed to exercise our duty to be vigilant of the agencies that serve our needs.
I don't know what else to say. I'm still in as much a state of confusion about how to interpret what has happened, and what is still happening, as I was a year ago watching it from a safe distance on television (once the power came back on).
That's when I started losing it. That's when I started spending all day watching television coverage, devouring town hall forums, looking for flood maps, worrying about my job and so much more.
I'm worried today that others are still feeling what I was feeling in that first couple of weeks after the storm -- unemployed, homeless, displaced far away from family and friends, in places they wound up living in not by choice, but out of desperation.
Today, writing this post from C.C.'s on Magazine Street, I'm grateful for many things. I'm grateful that I have a job. I'm grateful for new friends -- many of whom are local bloggers. I'm grateful that hundreds of people are pouring into the coffee shop talking about mundane things. Many more like me are reflective. But this is still not the norm.
The norm for most New Orleanians -- for well over 200,000 of us -- is what Ms. Regina is going through.
Her sister, Ms. Sandra, is seen here trying to salvage what she can of her family's heirlooms. Gone are the family photos. At her feet is a soggy bank book containing all of the payments her mother made on the house that will now have to be bulldozed.
Ms. Regina and Ms. Sandra drove down from Michigan, where they've been displaced for the past year, to deal with their mother's house. No one had stepped into the house since it was flooded to the roof last year. Neither Ms. Regina nor Ms. Sandra had driven such a distance before, and they had to rent a car to do it. They were forced to make the trip because the City Council voted to require all property owners to gut their houses within a year of Hurricane Katrina, and to make the property look decent, or the city would condemn the lot and confiscate the property. Both are in their 60's. Their mother is in her 80's. And they're still thinking about rebuilding the house. What else could they do? This is their home. This is their neighborhood. All of their family and friends have lived in the same neighborhood for years -- for generations.
This was on the refrigerator removed from the house.
So much more is needed -- still. Groups like the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, which helped Ms. Regina and Ms. Sandra, continue trying to help residents put their lives back together in what may very well go down in history as the most incompetent recovery in the history of the United States.
People like firefighter Brian West, and his friend Armand "Sheik" Richardson, a Vietnam vet, are American heros, hazarding the black mold and soggy floors of destroyed homes, opening kitchen drawers still full of rancid water, climbing over mountains of furniture to salvage family treasures, gutting homes for people who can't do it themselves, with each operation, offering hope and trying to save, literally, the cultural soul of New Orleans.
Sheik has himself organized and/or participated in over 80 houseguttings. Here's what he said in an email he sent this morning:
So we go in, house after house. And the story is always the same. At least by recovering some treasured possessions we may be able to at least ease the suffering some.
Imagine knowing tens of thousands of people who are in Ms Regina's situation? That's where I am every day. ...
All I can tell you is that I am going to continue on ... and do everything I can because this is my Home Town ... and I can't think of anything more significant to do with my life.
Let's hope that we can all make a difference ... and save as many houses, and lives, as we can.
Ms. Regina called yesterday from City Hall, frustrated with the red tape that forced her to drive down to New Orleans, and asked if I knew anyone who could clear the vegetation growing around the house. She was in a hurry to get out of New Orleans, but was getting quotes from lawn services in the hundreds of dollars. I told her not to worry about it -- that if I had to do it myself, I would take care of it. She started sobbing.
It's vitally important to recognize the contributions of the thousands of volunteers who have donated resources and come down here to help people salvage their lives.
Thank you. You are the most important part of this recovery, not just for what you do to physically rehabilitate the city, but for the quiet inspiration that your efforts represent to people who are losing hope.
There's so much more to do. Please, if you read this, commit yourself to visiting New Orleans in the next year to do volunteer work, and be a part of the rebuilding of lives that are the heart and soul of this unique city.
Also, "Failure to Effectively Manage Anything," and "Fix Everything My Ass."
So often at times like this, I think of music. This morning's selection:
Arvo Part, "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten."
Tags: Hurricane Katrina | Katrina | New Orleans | Louisiana | America's Wetland | Bush is a moron | Impeach Bush | George W Bush | Bush | Worst President Ever | Rebuild New Orleans | We Are Not OK | Katrina Dissidents | Failure Is Not An Option | Katrina One Year Anniversary