Life change and New Orleans – a tale of two cities in recovery
As many may have noticed, my posting has been virtually non-existent over the past 10 days. This is due to a recent career change, joining a small company helping in the recovery effort in New Orleans. As a result, I have been in New Orleans for the past 7 days working in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This experience has been life changing.
Those of you who have never visited the City of New Orleans, can only visualize, with the help of television and mainstream media, the destruction and disarray. Having visited in the past, this is one of the most bizarre, scary, disheartening experiences of my life.
My journey started on a airplane from the Northeast. After a brief stop in Atlanta, we approached the Louis Armstrong Airport. Looking out the window was a sight that does nothing less than cause your jaw to drop and provoke awe. Areas of complete destruction scattering the landscape; bringing to life the images that we all watch with amazement in the days after the storm.
On the cab ride in, I looked out the window seeing more and more twisted metal wreckage, reminiscent of a big budget Hollywood film. The trailer from “War of the Worlds” comes immediately to mind.
As we approached the off-ramp from I-10, you can clearly see the waterlines along the Interstate and then on the buildings. In places we were driving in an area which 3+ months ago had 4-15 feet of standing water.
Over the past few days, on trips to and from the EOC and various side trips, the images continue to be heartbreaking. Everything from, trees and limbs being down, buildings gutted with the contents left on the side of the street for pickup to downtown businesses still boarded up from the looting and piles of bricks from collapsed structures. This is one tale of New Orleans. This is the business district and many other parishes.
The second tale is very much what people expect. Bourbon Street with all the glitz. Liquor running like water, people acting like fools and all the debauchery one can imagine. Almost as if it is not even the same city, with one exception. In virtually every establishment, the people acknowledge the efforts of the recovery people. They appreciate the help and it is made very obvious.
Today, some 100+ days after Katrina, New Orleans is a tale of 2 cities. And it is still a struggle of the haves and the have-nots.
I talked for some time to a local older woman. She owns 3 houses. All were flooded with many feet of water. In the end she was told that her insurance did not cover floods. Yet, she could not have purchased flood insurance to begin with, she was not in a flood plain. And on top of that, FEMA has provided a temporary trailer as housing, but has not found the damage enough to provide assistance in starting to cleanup and rebuild. This story repeats hundreds, if not thousands, of times. In some areas, FEMA has told residents that they must raise their houses up on stilts eight feet in order to obtain flood insurance, yet these same residents are not being provided any assistance.
In other cases, people are not even allowed back into their neighborhoods. And the majority of labor being pooled as part of the recovery effort is not from this city, it is from outside. Everywhere you turn you hear people that want to work, they want to help. This city wants to rebuild. These citizens are not yet being given opportunity.
While some areas of the city are a party, others are merely surviving. In this great country of the United States, this feels wrong. While billions of dollars are already allocated for reconstruction, an entire city has a cloud of abandonment. While there is much blame to go around, President Bush has pushed this topic off the front page. This is a travesty.
As the birthplace of Jazz and the Blues, the prevalence Cajun and seafood and the home of everything voodoo, adding in everything else that makes up New Orleans, this city may be our most authentic American City. Watching it mold, mildew and rot, right before my eyes, hurts my heart. This country has opened its wallets and its heart. It is now time to hold our politicians accountable for their end of the bargain.
New Orleans must be rebuilt.