Over 4 months after Katrina sights like this were still common in New Orleans. This pic was taken at Chef's Pass in New Orleans East...
Four years ago today I sat and watched the Weather Channel and CNN as the storm of the century bore down on the gulf coast. It was so big that on the satellite pictures it covered nearly the whole gulf of Mexico. A category five with 150 mph plus sustained winds. And it was heading almost directly for my beloved New Orleans!
In the dark of night August 28th and 29th, 2005 the storm hit the coast centered on western Mississippi and completely destroyed everything south of Interstate 10. New Orleans although extremely battered seemed to have been spared the worse as the sun came up on the 29th. Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana declared tentatively that it seemed that the levees had held up, not knowing herself that at that critical moment the swirling winds, which, since New Orleans was on the west side of the eye of the storm were blowing north to south across the huge expanse of Lake Ponchartrian.
The resulting surge from the inland sea known as "the lake" battered the seventeenth street and London Ave. canals and yes, they gave way. The surge from the southeast which travelled in large part up the man made Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) had already deluged St. Bernard Parish to the east. Governor Blanco didn't know apparently but that surge had already broken the shoddily constructed Industrial Canal and people in the lower 9th ward were drowning by the hundreds.
January of 2006. A home in the Lakeview neighborhood a block or two from the 17th Street Canal near the point of the breach. This is a very affluent section of New Orleans...
The whole thing after that played out like a surreal nightmare. The Superdome was an insane assylum full of trapped and desperate people, starving to death and dying of thirst while surrounded by water.
The convention center... Oh my God! The masses of folks just sitting there in the sweltering heat (New Orleans in August is HOT) fanning themselves with whatever piece of trash would serve as a fan. They were literally dying there, waiting for someone to come and help. And the whole thing was on fucking television!
I tried not to imagine the stench.
I sat here safe and dry in Kansas City chewing my fingers and crying for those people and for that city which I had come to love after my first visit in the 80's. On that trip when I first pulled into"the big easy" I had an eerie feeling come over me, a feeling of deja vu. I distinctly felt like I had been there before and I hadn't... unless it was in a prior life.
Sean Penn broke through the security barriers and commandeered a boat and took it upon himself to do what he could; save a few folks. The so called "cajun navy", basically everyone that had an operable boat, were doing the same thing: saving lives of those rendered helpless by the massive levee failures. The people of New Orleans had been betrayed by OUR apathetic and corrupt government. I can not remember ever being so sad in my life.
January 2, 2006 I drove to New Orleans; not to volunteer (unfortuanately I wasn't financially independent enough to give my time for free) but to work in construction. Here it was four plus months after the storm and bodies were still being discovered daily. As I drove down I-55 southbound visions of what I would find at the end of the road flooded my mind.
Upon arriving in Metairie (the 17th street canal separates Metairie and New Orleans... obviously the levee breach was on the N.O. side and Metairie was mostly spared the flooding) I met my soon to be friend Tracy who asked me if I had seen any of the hurricane destruction yet. Since I had come in from the west I hadn't really, except for quite a few blue tarped "FEMA roofs". So he took me on a tour, and I was shocked.
Traffic lights were still not working. Trash and debris was stacked as high as it would stand on every street. Trees down everywhere. Every person down there was doing what they could as fast as they could but the damage was just so massive. Very few businesses were even open, especially on the NOLA side, but even in Metairie.
As anyone that knows me very well knows I could go on and on about my experiences and impressions of New Orleans for hours. I stayed there on and off until May 2007, and I saw many people get moved back into their homes, which always gave me a bit of satisfaction; knowing that I had helped in some small way.
The people I met all left marks on my soul. The salt of the earth. The culture of that area is like no other in the world and it's no stretch for me to say that I love New Orleans.
I'd like to say thanks to MjWycha for his post that I saw this morning that brought tears and these memories back to me.
Here's a couple more pictures in parting.
A lawyers banner. Suing the non paying insurance companies was and probably still is big business...
The bridge between New Orleans and Gretna where the Sherrifs of Gretna so proudly turned away the refugees of New Orleans, some who had walked miles (See MJWycha's post)
A misty evening on Bourbon Street....
A street performer on Decatur Street in the quarter. This lovely fairy lady would stand there stock still, not as much as batting an eyelash, until you tossed a dollar into her basket, after which she would come alive and grab a pinch of gold fairy dust and sprinkle it on you, only to then turn back into a statue...
My kid visited me several times while I lived in New Orleans. We have tons of pics. I believe this is a shop on or near Royal Street in the French Quarter. New Orleans is full of magic and I would reccommend to anyone going there and hanging out. Spend a few bucks and stay as long as you can. It's impossible to REALLY get to know NOLA on a three day weekend...