Meant to put this up a while ago, but I've been having access problems ...
November 29 marked three months since Katrina hit, August 29. Three months ago, those of us lucky enough not to be here saw pictures of some of the worst devastation to hit this country. Bodies floating in the streets, an old woman in a wheelchair, dead, and covered in a blanket. Three months on, it seems only appropriate to take stock of how far we’ve come.
They estimate that 100,000 New Orleanians, or one-fifth of our pre-Katrina population, have returned. Nobody knows how many more, if any, will come back later. I'm sure you’ve heard stories (I know I've told some) of restaurants and bars and stores reopening, but what isn’t mentioned is that they are all in the 20% of the city that didn’t go under water, and still only maybe half of those are going. We want you to hear how we’re coming back, but truth be told, we’re still on life support. The businesses that do open up find out awfully quickly that with only one-fifth of their customer base and none of them with disposable income, there simply aren’t enough people to buy the “New Orleans, Still Proud to Call it Home” t-shirts, now matter how much we all want to. Most businesses still limp along, but many have reopened after Katrina only to have to close down again a couple of weeks later because they can’t make any money.
Without any tax base for three months, the city is bankrupt. We want to have Mardi Gras as usual next year, because as stupid as it may be, we take pride in throwing you all the world’s biggest free party. But we can’t do it without money to pay cops overtime and garbage collectors to pick up the literally tons of trash left over, and nobody is coming forward to help. We’ll get something scaled down going, which is really too bad, because it is going to be the 150th Mardi Gras celebration, and it should have been a blow-out.
Along with the city, the energy company is also bankrupt. Entergy says it will have the whole city re-lit by New Year’s, but nobody believes them. Even if they could be prepared to turn the lights on in the 80% of the city that flooded, everywhere it flooded has to be re-wired and inspected before getting power back. And even if you can find an electrician able to schedule you in during the next year, it will cost you more than twice as much as it did three months ago.
Of course, with nearly half our housing stock destroyed or currently uninhabitable, prices have soared so people can’t afford to return. Perhaps they could if they could get their hands on the trailers or rental assistance that FEMA has promised, but for most of us, these things remain rumors or urban legends. Whenever we meet someone who has come by one of these mythical things, we surround them and pepper them with questions, trying to figure out what voodoo they worked to be so blessed. We reach out to touch them, hoping whatever magic they possess will somehow rub off on us.
Those of us with houses to rebuild wait on insurance companies that know that every day they delay paying us means more money for them. FEMA comes by and promises us loans to see us through, but then they disappear as well. I have yet to be inspected by my homeowners insurance, which is weird because surely they have less damage to worry about than the flood people. And even if the money does come through, do I have to lift my house or not? Will there be new flood levels or not? Nobody knows. Will I get to rebuild at all, or is my neighborhood going to be demolished? Nobody knows. Or if we do rebuild, will we be the only ones, a lone outpost surrounded by blight, stuck with a house in a neighborhood forgotten and left to rot?
Three months on, I still open the Times-Picayune everyday to find the “Katrina Lives Lost” column, a short biography of someone who died in the storm that runs on the front page of the “Living” section everyday. I’d call that ironic, but true irony requires a certain amount of self-awareness that the editors seem to be lacking. At any rate, there’s a new one everyday. Sometimes there’s a picture, sometimes not. Sometimes I can read them, sometimes not. At this rate, if they plan on doing everyone, they should be done in about three years.
Three months ago, the President said the country would do “whatever it takes” to rebuild the Gulf Coast. $200,000,000,000 was the price tag thrown around at the time, a number conveniently close to the amount we have spent on rebuilding Iraq. As of now, the Gulf Coast has received a $75,000,000 loan.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, though. After all, the administration and Republicans in Congress are reeling from scandal to scandal and hardly have time to deal with us. If one isn’t admitting to taking $2.5 million in bribes, another is worried about being indicted for it. I’m sure it keeps them all busy trying to spin their way out an indictment for campaign fraud and money laundering or an indictment for lying to a grand jury, not to mention dealing with failed Supreme Court nominees, bringing forth specious Iraq war votes, and calling war veterans cowards. And I know the Vice President has his hands full making the case for torture.
Sorry if anyone is upset or offended because I pointed out that all these people are Republicans. It’s just that, well, they are.
All of this is happening while everyday in New Orleans we learn more that tells us Katrina’s devastation was less an act of nature, less God’s punishment on us wicked sinners, less only what we deserved for living below sea-level (doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the “she’s a slut who wore a tight skirt” rape defense?), and much more a man-made disaster. Leaving aside the criminally negligent governmental response, we have also been treated to more tidbits from the news lately. There’s a canal that cuts through New Orleans called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or MR-GO, that everyone has said would worsen storm surge damage unless it was closed, and yet the Army Corps of Engineers continued to dredge it deeper. Sure enough, most of the levees that failed and flooded the city were on the inner ends of the MR-GO. The storm surge got channeled up the canal and boom! Also, the Army Corps of Engineers has been telling us that the flood walls had pilings driven 17 feet into the ground, which they claimed was enough but many other engineers disagreed. Now that those pilings are not so much in the ground anymore, turns out they only went 10 feet. Plus, letters have been found from the construction company hired to build the floodwalls to the Corps of Engineers saying the plans were inadequate, and yet the Corps insisted on their designs anyway. Then, back in the 90s when the Corps wanted to revamp parts of the levee system, the levee boards said no. As if that isn’t enough, it turns out the levee boards regularly cut short levee inspections so that they could go eat lunch.
What is it with government officials and eating? First Michael Brown, now the levee boards. Is it really that fucking hard to pack a damn sandwich?
In short, New Orleans wasn’t flooded by Nature, or God, or even simple bad luck. New Orleans was flooded by incompetence and corruption.
About a week ago, our legislators started talking about calling on New Orleanians to march on Washington to demand that Congress wakes up and pays attention and the President fulfills his promise. Why should we even have to consider that? No other major city has ever had to beg for help like this after a disaster.
Three months after there were bodies floating in our streets, how does it feel to be in New Orleans? Like we’ve been forgotten, and left to rot.