A friend of mine hit me up on MySpace yesterday to let me know New Orleans was in evacuation mode and she may be making it to my 30th birthday party after all.
This same friend just returned to her hometown this year to teach in the Recovery School District. She’d been here ever since Katrina ran her away from New Orleans, and she finally made it back.
Even more good news, she recently got engaged to her boyfriend of some time who is a New Orleans firefighter. From their engagement pictures they look extremely happy their life is finally on the up and up.
Enter Gustav – The tropical storm (soon to be hurricane) that is barreling right for New Orleans. Everyone’s hoping it will change course like Rita did, but for the most part, until that happens, South Louisiana is on high alert yet again. Every is feeling a bit of déjà vu ... as my friend pointed out in her e-mail:
This is the exact same week 3 years ago that Katrina hit. It was right after the 2nd week of school and the weekend of the Jamborees. The Jamborees are this weekend and this is the second week of school. It just seems all too familiar. I never knew that when I went home that Friday after work, that I wouldn’t be back for three years...and now look. I’m already on edge because my fiancé' can't leave because he is a firefighter, and I am just all tensed up.
Everyone is. Especially those who’ve been through it before.
This weekend is the 3rd anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, and though the government may be better prepared this time around ... no resident, parent, or loved one is ready to go through the same devastation all over again.
Not in this lifetime.
Three years ago today, authorities were issuing mandatory evacuations for resident of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities.
Katrina was coming, and the damage was expected to be devastating. Maybe the government had a clue, maybe forecasters had a clue, but I don’t think anyone living in South Louisiana could have fathomed exactly how devastating it would be.
Over 1,800 people were killed (only about 250 Americans were killed in the first YEAR of the Iraq War) ... Over 1,500 of those victims in New Orleans (and surrounding parishes) alone. Hundreds of thousands of residents displaced (most of which never returned – mostly because they couldn’t).
I spent my 27th birthday (and the days after) watching my people stuck on rooftops and in the Superdome for days while the government “figured it out,” watching our “President” give praise to the head of FEMA who left them there and never even went NEAR the CBD or St. Bernard area to visit those hit, seeing waters covering places I used to drive and buildings I used to patron, and panicking because I couldn’t find any of my friends who used to live there. It was like 9-11 all over again.
We were hit – hard – and couldn’t do anything about it but WATCH.
I remember rushing to volunteer at the Hirsch but was turned away because they didn’t need anymore. I remember wanting to drive down there and pick up some people and take them to safety. I remember gathering everything I could find and taking to the LSUS shelter to help those living there. I remember it all like it was yesterday ... and I wasn’t even in the storm.
I was a New Orleans resident for one year. Spent many Thanksgiving Day weekends at the Superdome and in the French Quarter at the Bayou Classic. New Orleans was my home for a while. It was crazy to see how my people were treated, how chaotic it was, and it’s even crazier to see how – three years later – there is still so much devastation and so much left undone.
This past May, I returned to New Orleans for the first time since Katrina, to see a friend of mine graduate from UNO.
As part of the weekend, we all wanted to take a tour of the Lower 9th and other parts of the city to see the devastation, and if there was any progress.
Here’s what we saw:
Ironically, our tour brought us to Humanity Street. But there's nothing humane about people still living like this ... In AMERICA ... three years later.
Most of this neighborhood was uninhabited. For every row of homes, maybe 2 were being lived in or had been rebuilt. There were apartment complexes, neighborhoods, schools and churches -- all empty. One complex had maybe 5 residents among dozens of apartments.
In another part of the Lower 9th, there were still FEMA trailers sitting in front of destroyed homes. There were still dumpsters full of debris from gutted homes sitting there. It was like time stood still. Like it happened 3 months ago and not three YEARS ago.
It made me sick.
We also took a trip to one of the levees. I believe this was on 17th -- One of the levees that flooded the Lower 9th Ward. There were bugs everywhere but I had to get up to the top. (The view above).
This structure is all that seperates all that water from covering the city ... again. As you may have read in Part 1 ... the new design is supposed to be more sound ... but a completely sound structure is still not there because funding is tied up in red tape (and the war). Most of us do not want have to find out if these new levees can hold. Hopefully we never have to.
Fortunately, there were some bright spots to this tour. In places where projects used to be (but have since been torn down), new, vibrant government housing has been built.
When we walked around, you could tell it was the "hood" ... with people BBQ'ing and playing loud music and hanging out. We commented on not being about to "get the ghetto out of people," but it was also a sign that they were comfortable again ... they were home again
In other parts of the city, rebuilding still goes on ... slowly but surely. We met up with a crew that was rebuilding this home in the Lower 9th.
And other homes are making a comeback as well. Slowly.
As the Gulf braces for another storm, it should remind us that the worst is far from over. The efforts to help OUR people should continue as long as there is devastation and FEMA trailers all over the Crescent City.
It's nice to go to Essence, The Bayou Classic, and Mardi Gras ... But take a tour like I did and see where your money is REALLY needed. Adopt a family or a house ... Continue to support relief organizations and help REBUILD one of the greatest cities in the South.
SAVE NOLA --- Don't forget YOUR people.
If you haven't seen Spike Lee's WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE ... it's a long, must-see film. There's another one going around called TROUBLE THE WATER, but the last thing I want to see is some Caucasian couple's version of how a Black couple from the "hood" made it through the storm and became rappers ... Ugh. I'm so ready to get behind the camera! - m