03 January 2006

New Orleans Up Against False Perceptions . . . (Among Other Things)

Ok . . . back in New Orleans. Let the posts continue . . .

I spent most of the last two weeks in three Floridas (the Panhandle, Central Florida, and South Florida) and in Atlanta. Other than a three day trip to Vicksburg/Greenville for Thanksgiving and the last ten days, I have been within 100 miles of New Orleans the entire time post-KTMB (Katrina That Miserable Bitch). These last ten days outside the area have proven to me what I suspected: the rest of the county really has no clue of what the current reality of New Orleans is. Here is an exchange I had on New Year's Eve with an AirTran flight attendant while waiting to take off from ATL to come home to MSY. Every seat on the "over-sold" plane was taken (with lots of happy LSU fans onboard following the Peach Bowl 40-3 dismantling of Miami) . . .

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: "Why are all these people going to New Orleans? (Looking around with a dumbfounded look on her face) What are you (directed to me) going to do there?"

ME: (After a brief pause of disbelief towards the tone of the question) "Uhhh, live my life? With my wife and child that sit here beside me. Go to the house that I own. Go to my job. . . ."

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: "Oh--you can live in New Orleans now? I thought there was nothing left."

The people around me in the plane laughed at my response because they were just as shocked by her question as I was. The rest of the country has no idea whats happening here--and to be honest its not necessarily their fault. Its one of two extremes: they either think everything is completely destroyed or everything is back to normal--no problem. But of course the American public is treated like kindergarten kids by the media and the powers that be as all issues or events or problems are defined and explained in yes/no, black/white, with us/with the terrorists simplicity. Such fundamental framing of language does not allow for variations--"gray" areas. Its this way or that way--A or B. Describing the reality of New Orleans right now doesn't fit well within the confines of that language. Defining New Orleans post-KTMB is an extremely gray area.

One night while in Florida, I was at a bar where a television was tuned to CNN with the audio muted--music blared in the bar instead. A reporter was on the ground somewhere in a devastated part of New Orleans (likely the Lower 9th Ward) as a dilapidated wood frame house moved from the force of the raging waters sat in the middle of the street behind him. As he talked his live image on screen dissolved to helicopter-derived aerial shots of a flooded New Orleans. The water has been pumped out from the city for over three months now, but yet shots taken the first week of September are shown in that pattened cable news hypnotic loop. There is no date superimposed on the visual notifying the viewer that what is being shown is not an up-to-date representation of the current reality. These are the sort of things I could see leads towards a non-New Orleans public not having a clear perception of current day New Orleans realities.

Some areas within the City of New Orleans are indeed devastated--some beyond repair and many others salvageable. Some areas within the city--"the Island" or "the Sliver by the River" as its being called--located mostly along the Mississippi River managed to avoid the flood waters and contrary to what some such as wonderspokesman and NFL Saints owner Mr. Benson have stated, are quite "livable." I am not saying conditions in these areas are as they were on 28 August 2005--the day before KTMB, but given the realities of other areas of the city people like me who live on "the Island" are lucky. For instance, both drug stores near my house in Carrollton have yet to reopen from damages incurred post-KTMB. Does this make the neighborhood unliveable? Sure, its an inconvenience, but compared to the "inconveniences" others in our city have gone through--such as losing everything they own or even worse, their lives--this inconvenience is trivial.

Another issue to be clarified is that 70-80% of the City of New Orleans (Eastbank only), St. Bernard Parish (Arabi/Chalmette), and Old Metairie/Old Jefferson endured catastrophic flooding because of hurricane protection wall or levee failures. In these areas, standing water sat for upwards of three weeks in some cases--and then RTMB (Hurricane Rita) caused re-flooding of certain areas (the Lower 9th Ward). The flooding damage to Lower Plaquemines Parish, lakefront portions of St. Tammany Parish, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were caused from a 10-30 foot storm surge of seawater (a tidal wave). The direct storm surge flooding was isolated to areas close to the coast or along tributaries feeding into the sea which acted as a funnel for the storm surge. The damage upon the backside of Diamondhead from the Jourdan River is an example of the funnel effect. In the direct storm surge areas the water retreated back to Lake Pontchartrain or Mississippi Sound or Breton Sound as the hurricane moved further inland. In the near and below sea-level portions of New Orleans and St. Bernard floodwaters became trapped and remained until pumped out because of the levees and walls designed to normally keep the water out.

The flooding that took place in Suburban Jefferson Parish on the Eastbank (minus Old Metairie) was caused because of non-working pumping stations. These lakeside pumps are designed to move fallen rainwater from the network of drainage canals in the parish over the hurricane protection levees to Lake Pontchartrain. A decision was made by Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard (AB2) to remove the pump operators from the pumphouses because of safety concerns (high winds) from the approaching hurricane, therefore the pumps were inoperable. In retrospect, its safe to say this decision will likely adversely effect AB2's political future. The flooding in Metairie and Kenner due to overflowing drainage canals was confined to north (lakeside) of I-10 concentrated between Veterans Memorial Boulevard and West Esplanade Avenue and Lake Pontchartrain. Both the Westbank portions of New Orleans (Algiers/English Turn) and Jefferson (Gretna, Terrytown, Marrero, Harvey, and Westwego) avoided any flooding with exception to one area adjacent to the Harvey Canal near West Jefferson Hospital. These Westbank areas are among the most vulnerable in the New Orleans area to massive flooding given a further western pathed hurricane than KTMB.

So in a nutshell, the flood waters have long receeded and although things are not proceeding as quickly as one would hope, progress (sometimes as baby steps) is still being made. The scenes shown repeatedly on television of devestated neighborhoods indeed exist, but at the same time many sections of the metro area avoided such wholesale destruction. The intact areas are the ones to be used as the base and the stimulus towards recovery. Its not all doom and gloom here in New Orleans but its not Mardi Gras either. Life continues. This is our reality . . .


At January 05, 2006 2:25 PM, Blogger Mr. Clio said...

Extremely well said. Thoughtful, balanced, sober.

My job has taken me on three trips since the storms. The Midwest has no clue. The Californians, however, really get it, understand intuitively what it's like, and are behind us. They're used to earthquakes, mudslides, pollution runoff into their beachwaters, etc. If felt good to be with them.

Houston's goodwill seems to have worn out. I give their mayor a lot of credit, and he still seems reasonable.

At January 05, 2006 8:14 PM, Blogger I. D. Reilly said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At January 05, 2006 8:18 PM, Blogger I. D. Reilly said...

I travel almost every week and I hear exactly the same thing - either surprise that anyone still lives in the metro area or a belief that everything is just fine. However, the one thing that always amazes me is how many people around this country have been to, and love New Orleans. Wherever I go, people genuinely are wishing for the best.

I do spend a great deal of time in Texas, and although I do not particularly like Texas (where Dairy Queen and Luby's are considered haute cuisine), the people have been fantastic about opening their hearts, homes and wallets to displaced New Orleanians. Of course, for some communities in Texas there may be selfish reasons for their actions, but generally communities across the state reached out and provided assistance even when there was nothing for them to gain by doing so. If only some Parishes in Louisiana could have responded as well (e.g., Ascension, Livingston).

At January 06, 2006 8:41 AM, Blogger Hollis P. Wood said...

Add Gretna to that list. Sad. Would the city of NO ever do what they did if the situation was reversed? I think not. What goes around comes around. This means you Gretna. Didn't your mothers teach you that you get only what you give.

At January 09, 2006 8:54 AM, Blogger Polimom said...

I'm reading more and more on various sites about how all the people should "just go home", "it's been four months already", etc.

It's hard to know what to do with this.

Like a fool (I really should know better), I keep trying to respond to some of those folks online, and it's an enormous "pile-on the stupid liberal" reaction.



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