Today we went on a tour of to see the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. Once again we were reminded of how our news coverage is insufficient. I had no idea how enormous the damage of this catastrophe has been. It was a three-fold tragedy.
First, the hurricane was terrible and caused terrible damage to the city, blasting all the windows out of high-rise buildings downtown. The hurricane actually hit land about 100 miles east of New Orleans, completely flattening and destroying entire towns along the Gulf Coast.
More terrible for New Orleans, however, was the storm surge that followed the hurricane. It brought a 40 – 50 foot wave that rushed backwards UP the canals that were designed to drain heavy rainfall from the city. The enormous pressure is what caused the most known tragedy: the flooding. There were 53 levee breaches in the city, causing homes to flood to the roof in a matter of minutes. People rushed into their attics and then became trapped. Some were able to break through their roofs; others drowned in their homes. Eighty percent of the entire city was completely underwater for weeks; a million and a half people were evacuated and many have never returned.
The third piece of the problem was the terrible mismanagement of dealing with the tragedy. A mandatory evacuation was declared too late for people to leave; supplies and rescue equipment were flooded and destroyed; organization was terrible. People were left behind to die in hospitals and seniors homes. Many people were left on their roofs for a week or longer, so many died of dehydration or starvation. Also, the floodwaters were filled with backed up sewage, debris, and dead bodies, so illness became a problem too.
Our guide today pointed out that most of the people who work in New Orleans don’t live here, as there are no homes for them to go to. Nearly all of the people who work in the restaurants and hotels that we’re frequenting lost their homes. More than 3/4 of the population of the city did. What we saw on the news was the Ninth Ward, the hardest hit, and it was implied that all the victims of Katrina were poor and black. This was not, in fact, the case. Another area hard hit was one of the most beautiful and expensive in the city.
A map of the devastation in New Orleans. I know it’s hard to read, but the areas in black were covered by 8-10 feet of water for almost a month; areas in red had 6-8 feet, orange 4-6 feet, and so on.
Houses still sit empty and destroyed. I know it’s difficult to see, but if you click on the picture you can see the details more clearly. The red X above the doors has a code from the army troops that went through each building. The middle top is the date that it was looked at – in the case of the red X, September 8. The middle left is the division, in this case, Arizona. To the middle right is the number of dead, and at the bottom is the number of live people saved. The red X says ‘NE’ in the middle right: that’s because the water was above the level at the doors and they couldn’t get in. ‘NE’ in this case means ‘No Entry’.
Below you might be able to see white X’s with similar information, referring to each side of the duplex. On September 29, a whole month after Katrina, the troops were finally able to get in there, and found two dead people in the right side. That’s what the H2D means.
Most of the houses we passed by had similar markings.
On this pink house you can see the water line where the water settled for about three weeks before being pumped back out of the residential areas. The original storm surge was about 8-10 feet higher than that (ie. this house was completely underwater).
This picture was taken from the tour van. It’s tough to see in this picture, but this house has its address spray-painted onto the side. That’s because it doesn’t belong here, it actually comes from the lot on the other side of the street! This neighbourhood was completely underwater, and the house floated to its current place.
Our tour guide assured us that Lisa and Donnie are indeed ok. But they got divorced last year.
You can also see that they’ve written ‘You Loot U Die’ on the door. Looting is an enormous problem here. In some neighbourhoods only one home on an entire street may be repaired, which leaves them in a lonely and vulnerable position. While repairs are underway, looters come to steal electrical and plumbing materials, appliances, flooring, or any other building materials they can find.
People have been defending their properties with their shotguns, and looters have been killed.
I find this amusing. Your satisfaction is guaranteed. Ummmm… surely if you’ve hired someone to level your house, then you’ll be satisfied if it’s not there anymore, and dissatisfied if it’s still standing. Pretty easy to tell if the job is done right, no?