Looks like you are going to have to put up with a few more Katrina memories with me. I’m just not ready to stop talking about it yet, even 10 years later.
People ask me all the time, why did all those people stay in New Orleans. Remember New Orleans flooded as a result of poorly built levee breaches, not because of a hurricane. We on the Northshore were affected by the wind and water. The flooding subsided within hours. New Orleans was flooded for at least 5 weeks.
People had stayed in their houses for generations when hurricanes came and were sure they could be safe. Not this time.
So why did so many stay even though they were under an evacuation order? To understand that, you have to understand the economics and fundamental racism of New Orleans. 70% of the city’s population 10 years ago was below the poverty line. It was also over 50% African American. There was some overlap, but not very much.
The African Americans lived in the lower elevations of the city, below sea level Only small parts of the city are above sea level. So when flooding started, it was the black community that was most affected.
The storm hit on the 29th day of August. Welfare or Social Security checks arrived on the 1st of the month so, no financial resources were available to the poorest 70% of the city. If they did own cars, they could not afford gas. The cars barely ran, so driving for hours through flooded streets simply couldn’t happen.
Public transportation was stopped the moment the streets got wet.
No public evacuation plans were in place because, well, a storm like Katrina could never happen. Pumping stations, decades old, would not fail and how could levees poorly built by the Corps of Engineers ever fail.
Everything that was not planned for happened.
Thousands of people were rescued by the Coast Guard, by private citizens, by first responders. Rescue operations didn’t start for several days because no plans were in place - after all, it was the black community.
It’s not that the poor people were ignored on purpose, it’s just that no politician or public official even considered it.
The government was not equipped to deal with Katrina. Even the US president, George W. Bush had no idea what to do, or when to do it; he wasn’t even concerned and appointed a guy who had no idea how to deal with an emergency of these proportions. “Brownie”, he was called by the president as in, “Good job, Brownie” when people were dying in the streets, the Superdome and the Convention Center.
Who is to blame? I don’t know, but certainly we expected our elected officials to step up. Evacuation plans are now in place. No one will ever be bussed to the Superdome, the levees have been rebuilt and some people have rebuilt or are rebuilding.
Many people have left for good, we being two of them.
Will it be better next time? Yes, there will be a next time. And I have no idea if it will be handled better or not. What makes me doubt it? I guess 70+ years of watching racism and politics in this country makes me think that way.