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Katrina at 10

Andrew W. Griffin
This writer took this photo of a neighborhood in Mid-City New Orleans five weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck. None of the houses in this image were occupied.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Five years ago, I wrote a column here at Red Dirt Report headlined “Remembering Katrina and her aftermath.” I had not really re-read this piece in all that time, but this week, as Americans mark this as being 10 years since Katrina made landfall on the U.S. Gulf coast, those memories – a mixture of shock and horror – came flooding back.

I lived and worked in Alexandria, Louisiana – in the central part of the state – between 1999 and 2005 as a reporter for The Town Talk. I would decide to move to Oklahoma in late ’05 after witnessing the devastation in the Bayou State. It had a real effect on me and I knew I had to move on. In a way, those storms led me here, to start over and launch Red Dirt Report in 2007.

And speaking of floods, a deluge of rainwater, which washed out and destroyed the basement in my house over two years ago, led me to salvage a bunch of mementos from my past, including some water-damaged photos I took when I went to New Orleans a few weeks after Katrina (and later Hurricane Rita) to help a friend clean out her damaged house and ultimately leaving the Crescent City all-together and remaking a life in Texas.

As I wrote in 2010 of my autumn 2005 visit to New Orleans: “I would finally make my way into the heart of New Orleans by early October, some five weeks after Katrina hit. The devastation was heart wrenching. This was a city I had grown to know and love. I spent a lot of time there and to it looking dead … it was hard to describe. The water had receded by that point but the damage was done – and extensive. The infamous ‘water line’ marks were everywhere, indicating just how high the water had risen. Abandoned, flooded-out cars littered the streets. Stray animals searched for food. It was one of the most eerie experiences of my life.”

Yes, the floodwaters had receded, but the near-silence that befell this great American city, even five weeks after the initial catastrophe struck, haunts me to this day.

This photo doesn't do justice in portraying the extensive damage that occured in this particular Mid-City New Orleans neighborhood. Taken in October 2005. (Andrew W. Griffin)

And 10 years later, we see that New Orleans has definitely made strides in recovering, post-Katrina, along with areas of the Gulf coast stretching from Texas to Florida. Red Dirt Report’s Marie Mentesana, during a recent trip to Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi reported that that area has come a long way since 2005 (and since 2010, following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe), but there is still much to do, primarily because new FEMA policies make it costly to build there now.

But never forget that nearly 2,000 people died amidst Katrina’s wrath and 1 million were displaced. New Orleans’s population would go from 455,000 on Aug. 29, 2005, the day Katrina made landfall, and drop to 208,000. It has risen somewhat, to 379,000 in the intervening years.

But as President Barack Obama, who visited New Orleans on Thursday, said, as reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, that much must still be done in “dealing with some of the structural inequalities that stood long before the start of the storm.”

The Times-Picayune reports that poverty, crime, a lack of affordable housing and disparities between black and white residents are the “inequities that appear to loom largest.”

But for 30-plus years prior to Katrina, New Orleans’s mayors have avoided helping the city’s low-income areas, diverting federal dollars to rather focus on the French Quarter and tourist-friendly pockets of the city.

Jacobin magazine reports that in the 10 years since Katrina, New Orleans has been made into a “neoliberal playground for young entrepreneurs and that the poor and working class were driven out by privatization and gentrification.

Writes Jacobin reporter Megan French-Marcelin:

New Orleans’s new economy, which rests on an unstable model of tourism and contingent professional labor, does not and will not benefit the city’s working class. Like most cities around the country, job insecurity, union busting, and state-orchestrated dismantling of social and public services have become status quo in New Orleans.”

THE FUTURE

And then there’s the city’s infrastructure of levees. Wetlands continue to be swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico, and, as The Washington Post reported last week, in a piece called "The Next Big One," New Orleans could someday lie right up against he Gulf of Mexico, more exposed than ever to another natural disaster.

“The greatest existential threat … to the city of New Orleans is the rapidity with which the coast is disappearing,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

And let’s all not forget that scientists had long warned New Orleans leaders that the city’s levee system was inadequate in protecting the city, which was more or less in a “bowl” and that severe flooding would result if the shortcomings in the levee system weren’t addressed.

The stunning incompetence of the Bush administration and FEMA’s Michael “Heckuva job, Brownie” Brown (originally from Edmond) in the wake of Katrina, shocked the world. And now a Bush-aligned, Republican hack named Bobby Jindal is the alleged governor of Louisiana while he also runs an inept campaign for president. All the while lecturing Obama on how the environmental issues surrrounding Katrina and climate change should not be mentioned at this time, calling Obama's comments "liberal environmental activism."

Bush, interestingly enough, remains thoroughly despised in New Orleans. Still, he put down his paintbrush long enough to actually show up in the city today to speak at a charter school there, one of many that sprung up in the city after Katrina. Bush and his cronies made sure the city's struggling public school system was dismantled or handed over to for-profit companies. New Orleans now embraces a system where principals see "dollar signs rather than students." That can't bode well for the future of the city, particularly as the charter school debate fractures the Crescent City along lines of race and class.

Red Dirt Report will continue to monitor the developments in post-Katrina New Orleans in coming years.

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About the Author

Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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