Katrina: New Orleans Must Come Back from Grave

Rick Bragg reminds us of why New Orleans was unique–and what a great writer he can be.

This Isn’t the Last Dance (WaPo, Sept. 2, A29)

Ever since I was barely in my twenties, I have loved the way some men love women, if that means unreasonably. I fell in love with the city and a Louisiana State University sophomore on the same night, eating shrimp cooked seven ways in the Quarter, riding the ferry across the black, black river where fireworks burned the air at Algiers Point. I drank so much rum I could sleep standing up against a wall. The sophomore left me, smiling, but the city never did.

There is no way to explain to someone who has never lived here why every day seemed like parole. Every time I would swing my legs from under the quilt and ease my toes onto the pine floors of my shotgun double, I would think, I am getting away with something here.

[…]

I cannot stand the idea that it is broken, unfixable. I look at the men using axes to hack their way into 100-year-old houses to save people trapped there by the suffocating water. I know there is life and death to be fought out for a long, long time. But I can’t help but wonder what will come, later.

My wife, as wives do, voiced what most of us are afraid to say.

“I’m glad you took me there,” she said. “Before.”

We went there on our honeymoon.

[…]

How long, before that city reforms. Some people say it never will.

But I have seen these people dance, laughing, to the edge of a grave.

I believe that, now, they will dance back from it.

via Mary Katharine Ham

FILED UNDER: General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ken Taylor says:

    New Orleans will come back, it’s the American way! The recovery will take years and I believe the problems that caused this flood, IE: the levies, will be corrected to help prevent this type of disaster in the future.

  2. bryan says:

    While Bragg’s sentiments are nice, and “The American Way” is usually a great way, there are times when it’s a bull-headed, wrong way. Short of raising the entire city, I don’t think rebuilding the city as it is is a wise option.

  3. Col Ajax says:

    Another opportunity for the haliburton-cheny-bush
    cartel to make another fortune-

    where is osama bin laden
    why is karl rove a free man
    where was the national guard when it was needed

    Of course New Orleans will be back, it is a developers dream land now

  4. McGehee says:

    Hey everybody, look! Lt bell changed his name and got a promotion!

  5. Rodney Dill says:

    where is osama bin laden
    Pakistan
    why is karl rove a free man
    Because he is an innocent man
    where was the national guard when it was needed
    The ones needed in Iraq are serving there, many here have been sent to New Orleans to help there.

    (You made it just too D@mn easy)

  6. anjin-san says:

    So Rodney, I guess this means Bush knows where Bin Laden is, he is just giving him a pass. Whatever happend to “Dead or alive”? Just BS I guess…

  7. anjin-san says:

    Chertoff: Katrina scenario did not exist
    However, experts for years had warned of threat to New Orleans

    Sunday, September 4, 2005; Posted: 11:55 a.m. EDT (15:55 GMT)

    Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff talks with reporters Saturday during a news conference.

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — Defending the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued Saturday that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur.

    But in fact, government officials, scientists and journalists have warned of such a scenario for years.

    Chertoff, fielding questions from reporters, said government officials did not expect both a powerful hurricane and a breach of levees that would flood the city of New Orleans. (See CNN.com for video link )

    “That ‘perfect storm’ of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody’s foresight,” Chertoff said.

    He called the disaster “breathtaking in its surprise.”

    But engineers say the levees preventing this below-sea-level city from being turned into a swamp were built to withstand only Category 3 hurricanes. And officials have warned for years that Chertoff, fielding questions from reporters, said government officials did not expect both a powerful hurricane and a breach of levees that would flood the city of New Orleans. (See the video on a local paper’s prophetic warning — 3:30 )

    “That ‘perfect storm’ of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody’s foresight,” Chertoff said.

    He called the disaster “breathtaking in its surprise.”

    But engineers say the levees preventing this below-sea-level city from being turned into a swamp were built to withstand only Category 3 hurricanes.

    Anyone else tired of being lied to? This is the same as saying no one ever dreamed a major earthquake could hit SF.

  8. hondo -NYC says:

    It will not work of course, that it’s Bush’s fault and a failure of the Federal government. The left, blinded by it’s own hysterical rage will deliberately fail to see the truth but that’s OK. In fact, this will probably benefit Bush in the months ahead. It’s pretty obvious how but there are those who simply “don’t get it”. The real battle begins months from now when Congress and the American people must decide whether to spend literally hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild NO. The rest of the region is a no-brainer, they will get a blank check, but NO?

  9. cirby says:

    anjin-san quoted a story, but left out half of what was actually said by Chertoff:

    “But there were two problems here. First of all, it’s as if someone took that plan and dropped an atomic bomb simply to make it more difficult. We didn’t merely have the overflow, we actually had the break in the wall. And I will tell you that, really, that perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody’s foresight.”

    And he’s quite correct. Which you must have known, or you wouldn’t have cuopped out half of what he said.

    The disaster everyone expected was just overflow and flooding, not a major collapse of hundreds of yards of levee.

  10. Stacy says:

    Certainly NO will come back, but it will take a very long way.

    And isn’t it nice that the first govt contract for rebuilding has been awarded too……….HALIBURTON!

  11. bryan says:

    anjin-san, the thing you aren’t grasping is that all of the disaster predictions factored in water overtopping the levees, not breaking through the levees.

    Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers.

    “We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped,” he said. “We never did think they would actually be breached.” The uncertainty of the storm’s course affected Pentagon planning.

    (source)

    Care to eat those words, Anjin-san?

  12. anjin-san says:

    Bryan,

    If you want to play games with semantics, be my guest. The bottom line is that a major catastrophe of this nature was predicted many times.

    “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”

    – President Bush, September 1, 2005

    It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV “storm teams” warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

    But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however–the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

    The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level–more than eight feet below in places–so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

    Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

    When did this calamity happen? It hasn’t–yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City.

    – National Geographic, October, 2004

    Cleary there was cause to prepare for a disaster of this magnitute even if there was an overflow instead of a breach. As usaual, the Bush adminstration is retreating from responsibility at warp speed.

    Bon Appitite dude…

  13. onwis says:

    anjin-san,

    Your comments only illustrate why the City of New Orleans and the State of La. should have been better prepared. Their lack of preparation is criminal. The shrill criticism of the Feds came first from Nagin, who decided to cover his own a$$ by deflecting blame while people were dying.

    All of a sudden the military and federal govt. are supposed to be the first responders to a crisis, for the first time, ever? And you act like it’s standard procedure for the local authorities to site back and wait for the cavalry.

    Maybe you can refresh my memory…when during Bush’s presidential term(s) did New Orleans sink below sea level? If it didn’t, why is this first administration that was supposed to have all resources in place to do the city and state’s jobs for them in case of a hurricane?

    By the way, any geologist or engineer will tell you that New Orleans is doomed. It sinks more and more every year. The next disaster will be worse than this one, because the floor will be lower and the river will be higher next time.

    We’ll rebuild, because we’re nostalgic and bull-headed; then we’ll blame the president for the next catastrophe, unless of course he (or she) is a democrat.

  14. onwis says:

    anjin-san,

    Your comments only illustrate why the City of New Orleans and the State of La. should have been better prepared. Their lack of preparation is criminal. The shrill criticism of the Feds came first from Nagin, who decided to cover his own bum (no pun intended) by deflecting blame while people were dying.

    All of a sudden the military and federal govt. are supposed to be the first responders to a crisis, for the first time, ever? And you act like it’s standard procedure for the local authorities to site back and wait for the cavalry.

    Maybe you can refresh my memory…when during Bush’s presidential term(s) did New Orleans sink below sea level? If it didn’t, why is this first administration that was supposed to have all resources in place to do the city and state’s jobs for them in case of a hurricane?

    By the way, any geologist or engineer will tell you that New Orleans is doomed. It sinks more and more every year. The next disaster will be worse than this one, because the floor will be lower and the river will be higher next time.

    We’ll rebuild, because we’re nostalgic and bull-headed; then we’ll blame the president for the next catastrophe, unless of course he (or she) is a democrat.