floodwalls

10 Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was only a Category 3 hurricane when it hit New Orleans in August 2005. But circumstances conspired to make it one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. The ingredients for disaster were in place before Katrina even hit.

  • New Orleans is almost entirely below sea level and surrounded by water.
  • City officials had known for years that a major hurricane could cause the levees (walls that hold the water back) to fail. But the problem was never addressed, even as the planet warmed and sea levels rose.
  • Meanwhile the canals and floodwalls built to make the Louisiana coast habitable for humans have displaced the sediments that support its wetlands.
  • Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, which form a natural barrier against hurricanes, are disappearing at a rate of 33 football fields a day.

We won’t soon forget what happened. People trapped on rooftops after the water had risen through the floorboards, poured through windows and filled the attic. Mothers and small children—and children without their mothers—stranded for days in the overcrowded Superdome. New Orleans, one of America’s most vibrant and visited cities, underwater.

Hurricanes have many ways of doing us harm: high winds, storm surge, flooding. But people contribute to the problem. We build on vulnerable coastlines and below sea level. Our industry erodes the land that protects us. There will always be natural disasters. Are we turning them into unnatural disasters?

Learn more about hurricanes and their causes

2

Staying Ahead of Sandy

I hope that you and your families are well and safe after Sandy’s visit to the Northeast.

The National Archives buildings were largely spared, thanks to extensive preparation based on “lessons learned” from similar weather events.  I am grateful to all of our staff and especially to our facilities and emergency staff for their ongoing work in keeping personnel and records safe. None of our records were damaged as a result of Hurricane Sandy, thanks to our staffs’ careful preparation.

While the National Archives buildings overall fared well, we know that other archival facilities did not.  Our staff are reaching out to state archivists whose states have been affected by the hurricane.  Our staff  are poised to advise and coordinate with Federal agencies on any needed records recovery operations. 

Thanks again to the National Archives’ staff for their hard work, and my hope for a speedy return to normal for all affected by the storm.  

These photos are from the Archives I facility in Washington, DC. Due to the low-lying topography of the site, the National Archives Building has implemented several flood control/countermeasures including Self-Closing flood walls at the moat entrances, cofferdams around louver openings serving the electrical vaults and watertight personnel doors leading to the electrical vaults. (Photo credit: Timothy Edwards, National Archives Facility Manager)

Read the full post on the AOTUS blog

4

Hurricane Katrina: Ten years on

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina triggered floods that inundated New Orleans and killed more than 1,500 people as storm waters overwhelmed levees and broke through floodwalls. Congress authorized spending more than $14 billion to beef up the city’s flood protection after Katrina and build a series of new barriers that include manmade islands and new wetlands. Reuters photographer Carlos Barria returned to New Orleans after documenting events in 2005 and found a city much rebuilt and renovated, although abandoned homes show Katrina’s lingering impact.

Photography by Carlos Barria/Reuters
                 

New Orleans rises decade after Katrina _ but gaps remain

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As people search for words to describe New Orleans’ recovery a decade after Hurricane Katrina, they sometimes use words verging on the Biblical - an economic and cultural resurrection, a rising from the ashes.

Helped by billions of dollars in recovery money, buoyed by volunteers and driven by the grit of its own citizens, New Orleans has rebounded in ways few thought possible in the decade since Hurricane Katrina. Reforms are evident everywhere, from schools to policing to community engagement and water management, all aimed at buttressing its people against the next monster storm.

But even people who talk about a renaissance speak in the same breath about those who didn’t recover. The ‘New’ New Orleans is whiter and more expensive to live in. African-American neighborhoods across the city still struggle, especially the chronically neglected Lower 9th Ward, a bastion of black home ownership before the floodwalls failed. And the murder rate is rising again.

“You’re going to hear a lot of folks say things are so much better, the economy is so improved, and other people are going to say it is so much worse,” said Allison Plyer at the New Orleans-based think tank, The Data Center. “And both those realities are true.”

It was hard to believe New Orleans would come out from under. Polluted water up to 20 feet deep flooded 80 percent of the city. Katrina killed more than 1,500 people from Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center reported a year later. Many of them drowned inside their homes. The city’s hospitals and police were overwhelmed. Survivors felt abandoned. The economy shut down.

Nearly a year later, most of the evacuees were still gone.

It seemed like a death blow for a lovely and romantic city already suffering from crime and racism, poverty and unemployment, corruption and neglect.

New Orleans is a national treasure nearly three centuries old, mixing African-American, French, Spanish and Caribbean traditions to create unique forms of music, food and fun found nowhere else in America. Would that treasure, and the people who made it so, survive and thrive?

Ten years after what seemed like the apocalypse, the question still hangs in the air.

“We’re still standing,” said Jannis Moody, a young African-American woman enjoying one of the city’s many free outdoor concerts, this one featuring the Grammy award-winning Rebirth Brass Band. “What’s clear,” she said, is that the people of New Orleans “are a resilient people.”

Signs of renaissance abound:

— Louis Armstrong Airport, where thousands of refugees slept while trying to get flights out in August 2005, finally surpassed its pre-storm passenger numbers this year.

— The New Orleans metro area has 11 percent more restaurants, according to the Census Bureau, diversifying the city’s distinctive take on Southern cuisine.

— New businesses are opening 64 percent faster than the national average, and sales tax revenue this year has been 29 percent higher than it was pre-Katrina.

— A sleek, modern University Medical Center has replaced the public Charity Hospital, where the emergency room served as a first and last resort for overwhelmingly poor black patients without insurance before it was shuttered after the storm.

— Almost all the city’s schools were taken over by the state and are run as charter schools. High school graduation rates jumped from 56 percent to 73 percent since Katrina, but critics question the progress and say schools no longer serve as important neighborhood social institutions.

— The city has recovered nearly 80 percent of its pre-storm population. Lakeview, where 1960s-era homes flooded to the eaves, is now one of the hottest real estate markets, and along the river, young professionals renovated classic “shotgun” style houses and Creole cottages to make Bywater one of the trendiest neighborhoods.

As many as 40,000 residents arrived after Katrina, Tulane professor Richard Campanella estimates. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were trendsetters, building new housing in the Lower 9th Ward and buying a French Quarter mansion.

The “YURPS” (young urban renewal professionals) decided to stay, followed by more millennials who came during the recession, when New Orleans, by contrast, was flush with recovery and insurance money.

“You had a whole bunch of millennials who were deeply affected by the Katrina incident that they witnessed on TV,” Campanella said, and the city, damaged as it was, seemed like a “cultural beacon,” a “kind of undiscovered bohemia.”

Chris Schultz attracts a growing crowd to his Hack Night get-togethers at Launch Pad, a co-working space he helped found in 2009 to jump-start businesses and foster a sense of community. Each week, techies hover over laptops and debate code while drinking beer from the bar next door, where locally brewed NOLA Blonde is on tap.

None of this existed before the storm, Schultz said: “The vibrancy of the city was nowhere near what it is today. It catalyzed people who stuck around to really care about the city.”

New Orleans native Brooke Boudreaux has been part of this transformation as operating manager of the iconic Circle Food grocery store in the 7th Ward near Treme, which calls itself “the Birthplace of Jazz.”

“The city has changed and ultimately we needed to change,” she said.

Her family-owned business catered almost exclusively to black customers before their store was ruined in the floods. They just reopened last year, and Boudreaux says one of the big changes has been the influx of Hispanics and white people into the neighborhood. Now in addition to New Orleans staples like Camellia red beans, they sell tamales, corn tortillas, organic produce and fancy cheeses.

The business startups, young people riding bikes — they all point to a city on the move. But the wide Industrial Canal cleaves the Lower 9th Ward apart from all this progress, with no pedestrian-friendly bridges linking its residents to the rest of the city. Eighty-year-old Oralee Fields calls it “the wilderness.”

From her front porch, she looks out on a once-friendly residential street now overtaken by tall grass and fast-growing trees. “I’ve been waking up every morning looking at that grass,” Fields said in frustration. “I had nice neighbors. We all grew up together, children walking home together from school.”

People often say that parts of New Orleans look just like they did right after the storm. But that’s not true.

The massive piles of garbage are gone. Mounds of bricks and lumber were trucked away. Homes ruined by toxic mold were razed. What remains is an emptiness.

In the Lower 9th, that feeling is punctuated by a single house here, a cluster there. Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” houses, community gardens and a brand new $20.5 million community center attest to hard-fought progress. But only one school has reopened in the neighborhood, and very few stores.

Thousands of people haven’t come back, even though many homes had been owned for generations before Katrina, said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club activist working to restore the community.

That prized status perversely worked against these homeowners, because without mortgages to pay, they weren’t required to and often didn’t have flood insurance, he said.

Government reconstruction money was doled out according to pre-Katrina market values that were too low to cover rebuilding. Extended families struggled to make decisions, and so did the city, debating for a time whether to abandon the area as a floodplain. All the uncertainty slowed the Lower 9th’s recovery for years.

New Orleans is still majority black, but the numbers have fallen from roughly 67 percent before the storm to about 60 percent today. African-Americans still suffer unequally from poverty and unemployment. Black households earn half the income of white households, and the city’s black middle and upper class has shrunk.

The worst number: 39 percent of New Orleans children live in poverty, virtually unchanged since before the storm.

“When Katrina hit, you got to see the real New Orleans, people who were trapped at the Superdome and the Convention Center — 99 percent poor, black. We don’t have anyone who seems to know how to fix that problem,” said Wayne Baquet, who owns Lil Dizzy’s Cafe in Treme.

The storm also made New Orleans more expensive — rents have skyrocketed by 43 percent. Cheap rentals were largely destroyed by the floods. The city demolished public housing projects where thousands had lived, replacing them with updated but lower-density homes. Thousands of families remain on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Many workers face longer commutes.

“The quality of the housing is definitely not worth the price that they’re charging now,” said Adrian Brown, a chef in the French Quarter. He gave up on walking to his job at an upscale Italian restaurant, and moved to the suburbs. “I remember a few years ago, you know, maybe a two-bedroom would be like $600. Now everything is like $1,100, $1,200 in these horrible neighborhoods.”

Blighted houses with boarded-up windows are getting bamboo floors and granite countertops around the St. Roch Market, where fishmongers once hawked their catches. The market just reopened as a gleaming, white-columned food hall bustling with bigger-spenders who sample key lime pie, charcuterie and summer kale salad.

“One time, you couldn’t even walk around here. … Used to be a lot of shooting, drugs, all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Troy Boudreaux, a lifetime resident of the neighborhood. He likes a lot of the changes, but says a lot of longtime residents avoid the market. “Black people been in this area for years, they ain’t going down there. They thinking it’s too much.”

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans remains a work in progress, aiming to reverse historic racial and economic injustices. The city has capitalized on “the power and the spirit of the comeback” since Katrina, said Michael Hecht of Greater New Orleans Inc., an economic development agency.

But the massive infusion of government money and philanthropy has mostly come and gone. “In some ways, I think the next 10 years are going to be even harder than the first 10 years,” he said.

Scars remain. The tombs on Canal Street still hold bodies that went unidentified and unclaimed after the storm. Some people are still on edge, packing their bags when big storms roll in.

But Torrie Jakes, who enjoyed the “Rebirth” concert with her friend Jannis Moody, described a new commitment to her iconic city. She spoke on a lush summer evening, as kids played, families swayed, a vendor sold chicken burgers with collard greens and the mighty Mississippi lapped at the levee behind them.

“You’re not going to recover from the impact of Katrina and be the same. We’re different and I think it’s unfair to ask if we’re better. I think we’re just different,” she said. “Do I mourn the loss of that New Orleans? Yes, but do I like the new parts of New Orleans? Yes, I do.”

Sunday Funday #4 at the Flood Wall
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Telepathy collab with @infinite_interval WHO IS SEEING WHAT
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#publicartstl #onthewall #streetarteverywhere #telepathy #graffiti #graffitiart #streetart #spray #sprayart #spraypaint #montanagold #stl #stlouis #floodwall #wharf #characters #characterdesign #characterwork #lsd just noticed it says that #creatures #graphic (at Graffiti Wall)

New Orleans rises decade after Katrina _ but gaps remain

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As people search for words to describe New Orleans’ recovery a decade after Hurricane Katrina, they sometimes use words verging on the Biblical - an economic and cultural resurrection, a rising from the ashes.

Helped by billions of dollars in recovery money, buoyed by volunteers and driven by the grit of its own citizens, New Orleans has rebounded in ways few thought possible in the decade since Hurricane Katrina. Reforms are evident everywhere, from schools to policing to community engagement and water management, all aimed at buttressing its people against the next monster storm.

But even people who talk about a renaissance speak in the same breath about those who didn’t recover. The ‘New’ New Orleans is whiter and more expensive to live in. African-American neighborhoods across the city still struggle, especially the chronically neglected Lower 9th Ward, a bastion of black home ownership before the floodwalls failed. And the murder rate is rising again.

“You’re going to hear a lot of folks say things are so much better, the economy is so improved, and other people are going to say it is so much worse,” said Allison Plyer at the New Orleans-based think tank, The Data Center. “And both those realities are true.”

It was hard to believe New Orleans would come out from under. Polluted water up to 20 feet deep flooded 80 percent of the city. Katrina killed more than 1,500 people from Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center reported a year later. Many of them drowned inside their homes. The city’s hospitals and police were overwhelmed. Survivors felt abandoned. The economy shut down.

Nearly a year later, most of the evacuees were still gone.

It seemed like a death blow for a lovely and romantic city already suffering from crime and racism, poverty and unemployment, corruption and neglect.

New Orleans is a national treasure nearly three centuries old, mixing African-American, French, Spanish and Caribbean traditions to create unique forms of music, food and fun found nowhere else in America. Would that treasure, and the people who made it so, survive and thrive?

Ten years after what seemed like the apocalypse, the question still hangs in the air.

“We’re still standing,” said Jannis Moody, a young African-American woman enjoying one of the city’s many free outdoor concerts, this one featuring the Grammy award-winning Rebirth Brass Band. “What’s clear,” she said, is that the people of New Orleans “are a resilient people.”

Signs of renaissance abound:

— Louis Armstrong Airport, where thousands of refugees slept while trying to get flights out in August 2005, finally surpassed its pre-storm passenger numbers this year.

— The New Orleans metro area has 11 percent more restaurants, according to the Census Bureau, diversifying the city’s distinctive take on Southern cuisine.

— New businesses are opening 64 percent faster than the national average, and sales tax revenue this year has been 29 percent higher than it was pre-Katrina.

— A sleek, modern University Medical Center has replaced the public Charity Hospital, where the emergency room served as a first and last resort for overwhelmingly poor black patients without insurance before it was shuttered after the storm.

— Almost all the city’s schools were taken over by the state and are run as charter schools. High school graduation rates jumped from 56 percent to 73 percent since Katrina, but critics question the progress and say schools no longer serve as important neighborhood social institutions.

— The city has recovered nearly 80 percent of its pre-storm population. Lakeview, where 1960s-era homes flooded to the eaves, is now one of the hottest real estate markets, and along the river, young professionals renovated classic “shotgun” style houses and Creole cottages to make Bywater one of the trendiest neighborhoods.

As many as 40,000 residents arrived after Katrina, Tulane professor Richard Campanella estimates. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were trendsetters, building new housing in the Lower 9th Ward and buying a French Quarter mansion.

The “YURPS” (young urban renewal professionals) decided to stay, followed by more millennials who came during the recession, when New Orleans, by contrast, was flush with recovery and insurance money.

“You had a whole bunch of millennials who were deeply affected by the Katrina incident that they witnessed on TV,” Campanella said, and the city, damaged as it was, seemed like a “cultural beacon,” a “kind of undiscovered bohemia.”

Chris Schultz attracts a growing crowd to his Hack Night get-togethers at Launch Pad, a co-working space he helped found in 2009 to jump-start businesses and foster a sense of community. Each week, techies hover over laptops and debate code while drinking beer from the bar next door, where locally brewed NOLA Blonde is on tap.

None of this existed before the storm, Schultz said: “The vibrancy of the city was nowhere near what it is today. It catalyzed people who stuck around to really care about the city.”

New Orleans native Brooke Boudreaux has been part of this transformation as operating manager of the iconic Circle Food grocery store in the 7th Ward near Treme, which calls itself “the Birthplace of Jazz.”

“The city has changed and ultimately we needed to change,” she said.

Her family-owned business catered almost exclusively to black customers before their store was ruined in the floods. They just reopened last year, and Boudreaux says one of the big changes has been the influx of Hispanics and white people into the neighborhood. Now in addition to New Orleans staples like Camellia red beans, they sell tamales, corn tortillas, organic produce and fancy cheeses.

The business startups, young people riding bikes — they all point to a city on the move. But the wide Industrial Canal cleaves the Lower 9th Ward apart from all this progress, with no pedestrian-friendly bridges linking its residents to the rest of the city. Eighty-year-old Oralee Fields calls it “the wilderness.”

From her front porch, she looks out on a once-friendly residential street now overtaken by tall grass and fast-growing trees. “I’ve been waking up every morning looking at that grass,” Fields said in frustration. “I had nice neighbors. We all grew up together, children walking home together from school.”

People often say that parts of New Orleans look just like they did right after the storm. But that’s not true.

The massive piles of garbage are gone. Mounds of bricks and lumber were trucked away. Homes ruined by toxic mold were razed. What remains is an emptiness.

In the Lower 9th, that feeling is punctuated by a single house here, a cluster there. Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” houses, community gardens and a brand new $20.5 million community center attest to hard-fought progress. But only one school has reopened in the neighborhood, and very few stores.

Thousands of people haven’t come back, even though many homes had been owned for generations before Katrina, said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club activist working to restore the community.

That prized status perversely worked against these homeowners, because without mortgages to pay, they weren’t required to and often didn’t have flood insurance, he said.

Government reconstruction money was doled out according to pre-Katrina market values that were too low to cover rebuilding. Extended families struggled to make decisions, and so did the city, debating for a time whether to abandon the area as a floodplain. All the uncertainty slowed the Lower 9th’s recovery for years.

New Orleans is still majority black, but the numbers have fallen from roughly 67 percent before the storm to about 60 percent today. African-Americans still suffer unequally from poverty and unemployment. Black households earn half the income of white households, and the city’s black middle and upper class has shrunk.

The worst number: 39 percent of New Orleans children live in poverty, virtually unchanged since before the storm.

“When Katrina hit, you got to see the real New Orleans, people who were trapped at the Superdome and the Convention Center — 99 percent poor, black. We don’t have anyone who seems to know how to fix that problem,” said Wayne Baquet, who owns Lil Dizzy’s Cafe in Treme.

The storm also made New Orleans more expensive — rents have skyrocketed by 43 percent. Cheap rentals were largely destroyed by the floods. The city demolished public housing projects where thousands had lived, replacing them with updated but lower-density homes. Thousands of families remain on a waiting list for subsidized housing. Many workers face longer commutes.

“The quality of the housing is definitely not worth the price that they’re charging now,” said Adrian Brown, a chef in the French Quarter. He gave up on walking to his job at an upscale Italian restaurant, and moved to the suburbs. “I remember a few years ago, you know, maybe a two-bedroom would be like $600. Now everything is like $1,100, $1,200 in these horrible neighborhoods.”

Blighted houses with boarded-up windows are getting bamboo floors and granite countertops around the St. Roch Market, where fishmongers once hawked their catches. The market just reopened as a gleaming, white-columned food hall bustling with bigger-spenders who sample key lime pie, charcuterie and summer kale salad.

“One time, you couldn’t even walk around here. … Used to be a lot of shooting, drugs, all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Troy Boudreaux, a lifetime resident of the neighborhood. He likes a lot of the changes, but says a lot of longtime residents avoid the market. “Black people been in this area for years, they ain’t going down there. They thinking it’s too much.”

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans remains a work in progress, aiming to reverse historic racial and economic injustices. The city has capitalized on “the power and the spirit of the comeback” since Katrina, said Michael Hecht of Greater New Orleans Inc., an economic development agency.

But the massive infusion of government money and philanthropy has mostly come and gone. “In some ways, I think the next 10 years are going to be even harder than the first 10 years,” he said.

Scars remain. The tombs on Canal Street still hold bodies that went unidentified and unclaimed after the storm. Some people are still on edge, packing their bags when big storms roll in.

But Torrie Jakes, who enjoyed the “Rebirth” concert with her friend Jannis Moody, described a new commitment to her iconic city. She spoke on a lush summer evening, as kids played, families swayed, a vendor sold chicken burgers with collard greens and the mighty Mississippi lapped at the levee behind them.

“You’re not going to recover from the impact of Katrina and be the same. We’re different and I think it’s unfair to ask if we’re better. I think we’re just different,” she said. “Do I mourn the loss of that New Orleans? Yes, but do I like the new parts of New Orleans? Yes, I do.”

In his speech today in New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Obama described the storm as a natural event that became a manmade disaster, thanks to a sluggish government response to a city with rampant economic inequality.

It was a manmade disaster, all right. But the government wasn’t just slow to respond to the tragedy. It directly created the tragedy. New Orleans wasn’t drowned by poverty or climate change or the laggards at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was drowned by bad government engineering and bad government priorities about water resources. If its floodwalls hadn’t collapsed, FEMA’s tardiness wouldn’t have been such a big deal.

A decade later, the engineering problems have been addressed with a new state-of-the-art flood protection system around the city, and the Big Easy is much safer. The president was right to highlight the city’s impressive physical and economic recovery today, as well as the persistent challenges faced by low-income African-Americans in the Lower Ninth Ward where he spoke. But it should not be forgotten that Washington’s skewed priorities left the Lower Ninth underwater—and those priorities are still out of whack.

The United States still has a dysfunctional water resources agency, the same Army Corps of Engineers whose mistakes helped kill more than 1,800 Americans ten years ago, and no real water resources policy beyond the whims of the politically savvy Army Corps and its doting patrons in Congress. So while New Orleans is better prepared for a Katrina-type storm, the nation remains vulnerable to Katrina-type failures.

Plans to massively rebuild the disintegrating delta

Plans to massively rebuild the disintegrating delta

– An image from 2001 of the active delta front before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed much of it in 2005. Credit: NASA

Mississippi River Mouth Must Be Abandoned to Save New Orleans from Next Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans 10 years ago. Huge earthen levees dissolved and concrete floodwalls toppled over. But the real culprit when the tropical cyclone made landfall…

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Katrina-scattered families rebuild separately and together

HOUSTON (AP) — Bunk beds dominate the narrow living room of Chevelle Washington’s modest three-bedroom brick townhouse apartment. A large box in the corner is piled high with kids’ shoes. The 51-year-old is raising six of her grandchildren. Her home is a refuge, a haven.

It was that way back in her native New Orleans, too — never so much as on Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck.

“I had 21 people at my house,” she says of that horrible night. “Because I had an up- and downstairs.”

The water rushing through the city’s breached floodwalls climbed all 17 of those front stairs, stopping just below the porch. It had receded to the 11th step by the following day, when a uniformed man appeared in a motorized flatboat.

As their anonymous savior steered the craft into the lake that the Upper Ninth Ward had become, Washington burst into tears.

“It ain’t never going to be the same no more,” she cried.

Her youngest son, Steven, remembers how the man at the helm tried to comfort his mother. “You’re moving on to something better,” he said.

An estimated 1.5 million Gulf Coast residents fled Katrina, scattering like wind-tossed seeds to all 50 states. Many thousands of them, like Chevelle Washington, have taken root where they landed.

But for son Steven, the pull of home, of New Orleans, was too strong.

A few months after Katrina, he returned to his ruined city, hoping to recapture that sense of belonging he couldn’t find in Texas.

Standing on that 11th step recently, his mind wandered back to the day he and his family climbed into that boat. He was never really sure what the man meant by “something better.” A short-term shelter? A bigger house? A safer city?

Like so many families splintered by the storm, the Washingtons are still searching.

___=

The storm did not “drown” New Orleans. But there’s no denying it is a changed city.

The black population has dropped from nearly 67 percent in 2000 to 59 percent today; whites, once about one-quarter of residents, now account for nearly a third.

“The people who have not returned have been disproportionately African-American, renters, low-income, single mothers and persons with disabilities,” says Lori Peek, an associate professor of sociology at Colorado State University and co-editor, with University of South Carolina psychologist Lynn Weber, of the book, “Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora.”

Since the storm, rents in the Crescent City have skyrocketed — up 33 percent for a one-bedroom apartment and 41 percent for a two-bedroom.

Following Katrina, officials demolished four of the city’s notorious projects, vowing to replace them with modern, mixed-income developments. Despite much progress, there are still about 3,200 fewer low-income, public housing apartments than before the storm.

Most of the people living in those units were black. Like Linda Nellum.

Revitalization had already pushed Nellum out of the murder-plagued Magnolia projects. Living in temporary Section 8 housing when Katrina hit, Nellum was evacuated to Houston.

From Texas, she applied for return and was put on a waiting list. She’s still waiting.

“Every now and then, you think about going home,” the 43-year-old says, a tear trickling down her cheek. She feels “trapped” in Houston.

Chevelle Washington chooses to see it differently.

___=

Growing up, sisters Chevelle and Champernell Washington never saw any reason to fear the landscape around them. But there was something different about that mid-summer’s day 10 years ago, says Champernell.

“You could just about smell it in the air,” she says.

When the skies began to clear, Chevelle Washington thought all was well — until she opened the door to the garage below. A refrigerator and her grandson’s basinet swirled up toward her, “like trying to see who was going to get up the stairs first.”

Steven, then 16, waded down the front steps and stared as shrimp and crawfish skipped past.

When the rescue boat arrived the next day, Chevelle Washington was reluctant to get in, not wanting to split up the family.

The boatman dropped them on a nearby street where, hours later, a military truck took them to the Superdome.

The Washingtons managed to find space in the hometown Saints’ end zone. Surely, this dangerous, leaky-roofed open latrine was not the “something better” they’d been promised.

After a few days, the refugee family escaped New Orleans.

Champernell had once lived in Houston. She’d loved the schools there, and there always seemed to be plenty of work.

And so, she, Chevelle and other family members resettled in Texas.

___=

In southwest Houston, the Washington clan has created a little slice of New Orleans.

Chevelle lives just a couple of miles from Champernell and her two girls. About a 10-minute drive east, brother Rene’s restaurant, Sleepy’s Po Boys, offers fellow Katrina refugees a taste of home.

Each has been back to New Orleans numerous times. Despite obvious progress, “It’s still that sense of death in the air,” says Champernell, 45, night manager at a hotel.

Chevelle talked of a friend who moved her family back — only to have three of her boys killed in a drive-by shooting, victims of apparent mistaken identity.

“I’m not ready to bury none of my kids,” says the former hotel maid, who now makes do largely on disability benefits for one of the children.

Much as she loves her hometown, it’s not worth the risk. Besides, she says, “It would never be home again.”

___=

It’s not that life in Houston was horrible, says Chevelle’s son Steven, who lives in a one-story apartment complex halfway between Treasure and Abundance streets in New Orleans.

His new high school made room on the football team for the running back from New Orleans. But off the field, it seemed he was forever trying to dodge tensions — like the taunt “N-O!” that the Houston kids would shout whenever New Orleans refugees passed in the hallways. Bottom line, he was homesick.

“I just couldn’t really do Houston,” he says.

After an uncle moved back to New Orleans, Steven joined him. He ended up in a different school from the one he’d left, with different kids.

He found jobs after graduation, most recently in the city’s vibrant restaurant industry.

Yes, New Orleans is dangerous. But most of the time, Steven says, the victim “probably did something he had no business doing.”

Ten years after climbing into that boat, he admits that he’s not satisfied with where he is in life.

“Just making it,” he says.

Last year, Steven had a baby girl, My'chel Marie. He sent her to live with his mother in Houston.

Between shifts, he’s found time to take computer and business courses at Southern University New Orleans. His uncle has been talking about expanding, and Steven thinks he could run a restaurant.

More and more, he’s thinking he’ll have to leave New Orleans.

“Too many of the wrong young people are coming back,” he says.

Although he says he has no regrets about coming back to New Orleans, his advice to other young people is: Unless you’re returning for a good job or to study, stay where you are.

Ten Years Later: Reflecting on the Health Policy Impact of Hurricane Katrina

Ten years ago this week Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast of the United States. Several hours after making landfall on 29 August, the storm’s surge compromised the floodwalls built to protect New Orleans from seasonal floods. The subsequent catastrophe would ultimately cost hundreds of people their lives, and effectively drown the economy of an iconic American city. The rebuilding continues to this day.

All told the death toll was estimated at more than 1,800 people, and the cost of the damage was well over $100 billion (2005 dollars). It turns out that Katrina caused the worst civil engineering disaster in the nation’s history to date, but our reflections today will focus on the disaster’s public health and health policy implications.

The levees are the perfect metaphor. They were built to push back against the pressure of rising waters, and multiple breaches were not supposed to happen. But happen they did, with devastating consequence.

The public health impact was immediate: people and animals stranded in homes, on rooftops, in their cars and on the street, with no water, no food, no shelter, no sanitation, no access to medicines or medical care. Mass evacuations would lead to triage or holding centers (such as Convention Centers and sports stadiums) that were ill-equipped to handle the volume, leading to more chaos before the situation gradually improved. The images from those first few days are indelible.

A typical disaster preparedness plan would prioritize:

  • alerts, warnings, and education - make sure citizens know what authorities know about potential risks, and approximate timing of disaster’s onset;
  • evacuation plans - how to get the most vulnerable - such as children and the elderly, the disabled, the hospitalized - out of harm’s way;
  • access to health care - what to do about ambulances, setting up field hospitals if needed, triage, transporting the sick and injured, medical personnel and medical supplies;
  • logistics - moving people and supplies (water, food, first aid), coordinating response and relief, ensuring that communication networks remain operational, with little to no interruption;
  • interagency coordination - the immediate appointment of an incident commander, a pre-determined protocol about mutual aid between law enforcement, emergency preparedness, fire, search, and rescue, public health and emergency medical services, and military or National Guard, if needed.

In retrospect such a plan was in place for New Orleans ten years ago, but was poorly executed, with multiple failures all across the supply chain. Notably, a Congressional panel found that ”critical” aspects of the National Response Plan were “executed late, ineffectively, or not at all.”

Lessons have been learned since 2005, most notably the need to be vigilant about the strength of the levees, in Louisiana and elsewhere.

The most significant policy challenge, however, remains keeping policymakers accountable for appropriating the necessary resources to plan for and prevent such a disaster from happening again. 

Two important federal programs with significant coordinating and funding roles in this regard are the Hospital Preparedness Program and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreements. Recent budgetary pressures have left them underfunded however, leaving state and local authorities vulnerable to the vagaries of natural (and man-made) disasters. 

As we reflect on the destruction Katrina wrought, we should, as a nation, be inspired to do better.

New Orleans: Recovery or Removal?

SANDY ROSENTHAL, hoppinhill at gmail.com, @leveesorg
Rosenthal is president of Levees.org. AP reports: “The catastrophic flooding of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward now has a commemorative marker at the site where a floodwall protecting the neighborhood collapsed, unleashing a wall of water 10 years ago during Hurricane Katrina. The plaque was erected Monday and unveiled during an emotional ceremony. … On Aug. 29, 2005, the floodwall along the Industrial Canal catastrophically failed. The resulting flood wiped out the African-American neighborhood and killed scores of people. …

“Getting the plaque erected was the work of Levees.org, a citizens group that formed after Katrina to push for reforms in levee building and oversight. The group led efforts to erect two similar historical markers at the breach sites along the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal. The three breaches where plaques are now standing caused the majority of the flooding during Katrina. Sandy Rosenthal, president of Levees.org, said her group wants to make sure Katrina is properly remembered. The group has long pushed to, as members have put it, ‘bust the myths of the flooding during Katrina.’”

MONIQUE HARDEN, mharden at ehumanrights.org
Harden is the co-director and attorney of the New Orleans based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. She said today: “In the name of recovery, billions of tax dollars have been spent on abusing the human rights of African American residents who’ve been displaced after Hurricane Katrina. We hear and read Mayor Landrieu repeating the words ‘resilience’ and ‘recovery,’ but his actions have built a rec center for kids on a former waste dump, obstructed necessary reforms of a corrupt police department and prison, selectively targeted the homes sought by developers for huge code enforcement penalties, and ridiculed African American residents of flood-damaged neighborhoods in need of help. He gives lip service to climate change, but refuses to hold oil and gas industries accountable.”

JORDAN FLAHERTY, jordan at grittv.org
Flaherty is a New Orleans-based journalist and author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. His most recent coverage of post-Katrina New Orleans can be seen in an article about social justice organizing in The Nation magazine, and in a new documentary “New Orleans: Recovery or Removal?” airing around the U.S. on The Laura Flanders Show, on LinkTV, and Free Speech TV, and internationally on the teleSUR News Network.

He said today: “Around 100,000 black residents are still displaced; housing prices continue to rise rapidly, pushing out those trying to get by on jobs in the city’s low-paying tourism economy. But despite the violence represented by these changes, or perhaps because of them, New Orleans has also seen a rise in coordinated resistance. More people have been organizing, taking to the streets, and risking arrest than at any other time in recent history.”

IMANI JACQUELINE BROWN, imanijacqueline at gmail.com
Based in New Orleans, Brown is a founding member of Blights Out (“collaborative and creative initiative to unite residents of New Orleans in the design of a new model for development that shares the tools for locals to build the destinies of their own neighborhoods”) and an organizer with Gulf South Rising. She said today: “Our future cannot be one of ‘resilience;’ the punches of climate change, the growing police state, and escalating wealth divide will come faster and harder and the effort of continually rebuilding and rebounding is wasted energy that could be better spent on resisting, refusing, and designing a way out of this failed system.”