It’s been twelve hundred forty-six days since Katrina made landfall along the Louisiana coastline – the storm that many predicted would one day hit New Orleans had arrived. I was born in New Orleans, but I have never been there during a major hurricane. I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the discomfiture humans endure when they are forced to seek higher ground in a city that is sixteen feet below sea-level, but if it is anything like what I saw on national television – I am glad that I was never around when a major hurricane came ashore in New Orleans.
What I can remember about Katrina is that my seven brothers and sisters live in New Orleans and I had no idea what they were experiencing that night. All of my childhood friends, well, most of them still live in New Orleans. I thought of and worried about their welfare. Did they evacuate the area as advised? If they stayed, were they able to survive the hurricane only to drown because a ‘barge’ broke loose from its moorings and battered the 9th Ward levee until it gave way? I seem to remember a barge breaking its moorings once before during a hurricane in New Orleans - happens all the time - not. In fact, most recently, hurricane Ike caused a ship and barge to break their moorings at the height of the storm as it passed New Orleans. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there?
At this moment, I am most interested in the recovery of New Orleans; how the people of New Orleans are truly fairing as far as getting on with their lives? My parent’s house was destroyed. The house was located midway between North Caliborne and St. Claude Avenues and butts against the Industrial Canal... ground zero for the flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward. From the levee at Dauphine and Sister, I have been able to look over the house tops of all of lower New Orleans as far as my eyes could see. And if I turned around and looked at the Mississippi River, the banks of the river were just as far down as the streets of New Orleans on the other side. Many times during a spring thaw, those waters have been higher than the streets of New Orleans.
As a child growing up in New Orleans, I remember the sounds of my neighborhood. The family on the corner could never talk to each other without screaming, and Saturdays were the worst. As ships and barges moved through the Industrial Canal on their way to the Gulf using the man-made shortcut, I could hear the clanging of the warning bells as the guardrails were lowered and the St. Claude Bridge opened to let shipping into the Intracoastal Waterway. The ground was so soft that the cavitations of the propellers on the big ships actually vibrated through the ground and into my body when I was lying under the big pecan tree in our front yard.
On a good day, when my pigeons would return to the roost after feeding at the local grain and feed elevator unloading docks, I would watch as they circled the house waiting for the dominate male to lead them home and into my coop were they would feed their young. Every day was a good day for fishing, and I did more than my share of fishing. With seven brothers and sisters, my parents were extremely happy when I brought home three or four large yellow catfish from a short trip to the Intracoastal Waterway. The water was clean and flowed slowly toward Lake Ponchartrain and the Gulf. Shrimp, crabs, speckled trout, perch, and more were there for the offering. As I grew older, I always appreciated having grown up in New Orleans. Life was easy and slow, hence the ‘Big Easy’.
I return to New Orleans shortly after hurricane Katrina. I had moved to Cozumel, Mexico and all of our household goods were in a container that was supposed to leave Pearlington, Mississippi for Progresso, Mexico within weeks of the storm hitting the Gulf Coast. The storm damaged the loading docks and I was forced to return to the Gulf Coast area in February of 2006 to unload the container into a U-Haul truck. I missed my exit onto Interstate 12 and entered New Orleans East by mistake. I saw the devastation up close. I cried as I traveled the length of Interstate 10 until I could turn the truck around at Reed Blvd. I thought to myself, New Orleans will never be the same. Sho’nuff, I was right, New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward is still desolate and abandoned. The neighborhood where I grew up is no more. Of all of the houses that were there, only two have been rebuilt.
This video was taken from the Claiborne Avenue Bridge where the levee failed - three blocks from my parent’s home.
In a democracy, silence is not golden; it is condonance in the face of injustices; it is fear, where the thought of reprisal fosters control - Rodney Davis