Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricane Season in New Orleans

I watched Anderson Cooper report about the approach of Hurricane Gustav from New Orleans. I heard him say this storm, if it hits the area, will be a test of the promise President Bush made to the people of the city and the country after Hurricane Katrina.

I thought to myself, what about the test to the promises made by the state and local officials? What about the test of the assumption of responsibility of the locals?

I don't take any of this lightly. This is not rhetorical for me. The city of New Orleans has been a part of my life since birth. I was born in Biloxi, Mississippi because we lived in Ocean Springs, which had no hospital in those days. OK. I'm old.

Look on a map. You will see the closeness of the area. We moved over to New Orleans when I was a toddler. My father was in sales and marketing for a national distillery. The French Quarter was a big part of his territory. We moved up to Shreveport when I was 5 years old so Louisiana was home for most of my life.

We were in New Orleans frequently. I had a Cardiologist at Touro Hospital when I was a girl due to a heart murmur at birth. My tests were done there until they were no longer necessary.

My husband, when I met him, was a resident of New Orleans. His mother, as fate had it, had gone to college in New Orleans and met his father there when he came through on leave from WWII. Small world. That's how New Orleans was.

Any time someone asked which are my favorite cities, my number one was always New Orleans.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit. When I was growing up, every hurricane season I heard the adults say that one day a big one would hit New Orleans and it would be gone. It was just fact. New Orleans was never ready for 'the big one.' New Orleans is the most corrupt city in the most corrupt state in the country. I love Louisiana but that's the truth. The levee board was a corrupt patronage system and the levee system was never what it needed to be. Federal dollars were squandered as a way of life.

And, yes, the poor in New Orleans are among the poorest in the country. The Democrats have kept them poor, unmotivated, and dependent for generations. Again, it is the truth. The unmotivated didn't go to school, learn a trade or take responsibility for themselves or the children they produced. New Orleans had the highest murder rate in the country.

Laissez les bon temps rouler.

So, where did that leave the city as Hurricane Katrina approached? We here in Houston were making preparations. The governor of Louisiana was paralyzed by fear and incompetence didn't put the paperwork in for the maximum Federal help, even after President Bush personally called her and told her to do it. Even after the top meteorologist in the country called her personally and told her to do it. Mayor Naguin got a penthouse suite in the French Quarter and arranged for the Japanese businessmen visiting the city to get out of town. Never mind his own citizens.

We know the rest. The city is lost forever. Sad and unavoidable. This was no shock. The people of New Orleans are gamblers. Lady Luck ran out.

My husband and I took our son to celebrate his 18th birthday in New Orleans last year. This weekend last year. My son is a Labor Day baby, born in Lafayette, Louisiana. South Louisiana is in his blood, too. My husband took him to the Gay Pride parade, an annual Labor Day event. It's New Orleans. We stayed in the French Quarter in a nice hotel and enjoyed our weekend.

It was New Orleans but it wasn't. It was rather depressing. Our first visit back since the hurricane, we didn't know quite what to expect. Not a lot has been done. I loved the French Market and it's gone. We did enjoy a visit to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait, as we bored our son with the story of his father proposing marriage to me there.

Jackson Square (where Bush delivered the speech) looks the same. But the areas outside of the French Quarter are depressing to view. The building uptown where my husband had an apartment - an old house divided into apartments - was there but the area is hit and miss.

The local shop owners in the French Quarter told me their stories, because I asked, and told me of their frustration with the local government that still doesn't have it together and were looking forward to the governor's race. Well, the governor's race produced Governor Bobby Jindal a few months later and I rejoiced.

Finally some competence in the State House. He's done well in the short time he's been there, but New Orleans still isn't ready. It's still below sea level and the levees still won't hold back a major hurricane.

And, that's the point. Democrats rant and rave that it is Bush's fault. "The government" didn't do enough. As always happens, government was proven to come up lacking when it came to managing the lives of human beings. People take care of people.

Look at the coast of Mississippi. It was hit much harder than New Orleans. New Orleans retained its infrastructure in the French Quarter. Why? It's on higher ground. The shipping merchants who founded the city all those years ago realized that and put the city there.

Whole towns were lost to Katrina in Mississippi. Yet, thanks to the sheer will of the people and the good fortune to have a strong Republican governor, the state has come so much farther than New Orleans.

Leadership and motivation. Personal responsibility. Not dreamy stuff, I know. But it's reality. It's the difference in success and failure. Sometimes life and death.


Z said...

Karen, this was just a wonderful piece; so interesting to hear your point of view coming from your history with the city. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks SO much.
Best thing N.O. ever did was elect Bobby Jindal.

I hope the city grows back into what she once was, only with a conscience and more integrity. I have never been, sorry to say.

Jen said...

I just found your blog and enjoy reading it so much! I live in Northern LA and I couldn't agree with you more...on everything you wrote here. Whatever happened to PERSONAL burns me up when people are always blaming the government for their problems. That's a huge part of what's wrong with the world today.

Layla said...

Excellent write-up. But I have to ask why would anyone live in New Orleans after what happened 3 years ago? Taking a chance to rebuild there when their levis are still not stable makes no sense to me.

I am glad they have evacuated the whole city and hopefully all will go.

But I have a hard time finding sympathy for them this time - it is stupid to live in such a hot spot. America is huge and their are much safer places to be. Too bad they did not learn this lesson the first time instead of putting up money to rebuild only to G-d forbid be devastated again. What a waste of energy and resources.

It is life Forrest Gump says, "Dumb is as dumb does."

DeltaLady said...

The ongoing saga of New Orleans is older than any of us alive today. It has always been known that it was 'just a matter of time and bad luck'. Canals were dredged, the city sank lower, and the French Quarter was on the highest bit of land still. Builders and developers ignored the obvious and plundered the area. It seemed no one there had any common sense.
I'd like to suggest to anyone interested to read 'The Great Deluge'....its an amazing book about Katrina, I've read it cover to cover twice.
Politics and corruption played its part over the generations, but those who played that game stayed on. Those dependent upon the system did also. Perhaps this is the only way to clean up the mess? Its a shame to loose such a wonderul place as I too, am quite familiar with it. But hurricanes have no heart or political party and only history will tell now. Nothing lives forever and we may be witness to the death of a grande dame.

Vicki said...

Karen, you have given me pause. I never thought of the Democrats at enablers before. I'm a 63-year old, life-long staunch Democrat, and I bought into the view that Bush and his group were at fault for the Katrina mess. Thanks to you, I have been enlightened by someone who knows the real deal. What you state makes total sense. Boy, I've got a lot to ponder!
After years of reading about the history of your remarkable city, I plan to actually visit it in July of this year. I wish I had not waited so long. However, I will visit Cafe du Monde and have beignets and cafe au lait in your honor.

Anonymous said...

N.O., needs to get rid of Naguin to move forward. Sincerely, Lake Charles, LA resident.