Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Orleans Recovers Five Years After Katrina

As we pause and remember the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, let us look to the future. No doubt the media will highlight all the less positive stories, look for the disgruntled and angry, spotlight the ugly side of desperate human behavior and the political corruption involved but it is for us to push past that and not be distracted.

A city built up below sea level. Originally, the city founders settled the French Quarter section and that is not below sea level. It stands today as it did immediately after the hurricane's flooding destroyed sections of the city. That infrastructure held. Electrical service went out but that happens from time to time in storms anyway.

The levees broke. The technology used was from the 1920's so it is hardly a shock that the ensuing years without proper maintenance or upgrading would provide an atmosphere waiting for disaster. Hurricane Katrina herself did not take out New Orleans. The flooding after the storm destroyed parts of the city.

It is important to remember that in the midst of all the finger pointing after the destruction that it was the initial failure of local and the state leadership that set the stage for the impending disaster. Governor Blanco was completely inept and unable to make important decisions. More importantly, she was too politically partisan to request from a Republican president the federal help she needed to put into place response efforts before the storm came ashore. That is shameful and unforgivable. There are many reports that President Bush all but begged the woman to request the necessary federal action to put the process into place.

Mayor Naguin was also completely paralyzed, for whatever reason. Incompetence? Probably. Waiting until the last hours to proclaim a mandatory evacuation was not the way to go. Allowing rows and rows of empty school buses to set idle while the poor and infirmed were without transportation out of their homes is unforgivable.

The federal response was slow but looking back, what would be different? The response teams couldn't get into the city due to flooding and storm conditions. Once the relief was able to get there and respond, there were mistakes, yes. The president looked disinterested by doing the flyover in Air Force One. That was a p.r. mistake. He was engaged but that was not made clear.

It was made clear again that the federal government cannot respond quickly to anything. Mistakes will be made and human beings will falter. It is imperative that people realize that personal responsibility cannot be replaced by bureaucracy. Neighbors have to help neighbors. Family must come together and provide support. Local charities and religious organizations are available to take up slack. This is America. This is what we do.

Political corruption is rampant in New Orleans, as with other places. The board charged with managing the levee system was one of political favors and patronage. Old style corruption and greed. Not a new story. Federal monies sent to maintain and improve the system were not properly applied.

New Orleans is a magical city to many of us. We love her no matter what. We were heartbroken as we watched with horror the damage and the stories of humans ill-equipped to cope. Generations allowed to remain dependent on government aid, mostly for political expediency, suffered the most. They were the ones on the roofs and stuck on the bridge waiting for someone to help. These are the truly tragic stories.

The silver lining is that the city will bounce back and lessons have been learned. New beginnings will allow better schools, a hope of new leadership, and the realization that we are stronger than we think. It is up to us all to remember that we make our own destiny. And, never say die. New Orleans is too important to the cultural fabric of our country to drown.

New Orleans is coming back. Slowly. Stronger than ever.

No comments: