If you don’t live in or around New Orleans you may have forgotten, but August 29 is the day Hurricane Katrina assaulted the Gulf Coast with Category 3 winds (up to 175 mph) and storm surges of 25 to 28 feet, killing 1,833 and costing some $108 billion in damages, the costliest tropical storm in U.S. history. It was not until the following day that we began to realize that although the eye of the storm had curved eastward and the city was spared the worst—“we dodged a bullet”—the city was flooding! In addition to coastal St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and other parishes, 80 percent of New Orleans flooded when Katrina’s massive storm surge burst through the city’s outflow canals to Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet (MR-GO), the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, etc.—53 different levee breaches in all. (The surge was about 10 to 20 feet around New Orleans, and nearly 28 feet at nearby Pass Christian, Miss., exceeding the previous record set by Camille in 1969 by some 4 feet.)
The most dramatic and infamous of the flooded areas was the already poor Lower Ninth Ward. An animated graphic produced by The Times-Picayune shows the sequence of events, still horrifying to watch. It was a catastrophic failure of the mostly federally built storm protection system, and in the years since the scorned and humiliated the Army Corps of Engineers has worked overtime to rebuild and reinforce the area’s defenses against flooding. (The Corps’ funding and directives come—or don’t come—from Congress; this blog does not hold the Corps alone responsible for the failures.) For more about the flooding, and recommendations on reinforcement of the area’s flood defense system, see our interviews with Mark Schleifstein and Ivor Van Heerden.
See The Times-Picayune’s dramatic then-and-now photo essay and editorial “Nine Years Post Katrina: A Recovery Still in Progress.”
New Orleans: Proud to Rebuild Home
Much of the city has been rebuilt, and in some ways life in New Orleans is better than ever (see Magazine Street, for example). Other parts of town are still damaged, depressed. There are neighborhoods that will never be the same. Many people had to leave and will never return—they left to avoid the storm and could not have imagined they would not be able to return, or would not want to—but those who remain are bravely, determinedly rebuilding, and there are also thousands and thousands of new residents, many of them young, talented, imaginative and energetic. There is a relatively new and improved mayor, Mitch Landrieu, and the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010 the same weekend Landrieu was elected—a good warmup for Mardi Gras a week later. And then, lest anyone get too optimistic, a few months later, on Earth Day (April 22) 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded nearby in the Gulf of Mexico and became the most destructive marine oil spill in history, devastating the state’s coastline, seafood industry, wiping out livelihoods beyond measure. The lawsuits go on . . .
Much has improved since the storm, and much remains the same, or worse. The United States remains embroiled in Middle East and Central Asian wars, some of our own making (or making worse). The nation continues to spend far more on its military than on its crumbling infrastructure, and the Pentagon receives hundreds of billions per year that could instead go to a national healthcare system that covers everyone, to an improved educational system in which teachers are compensated as though their work is valuable, and so on. Scroll through this blog’s posts (samples below) and you’ll see that the issues are plenty, and the work goes on. Congress remains dysfunctional or, worse, actively hostile amid widespread unemployment, persistent and seemingly deliberate shredding of the middle class and its safety net (rolling back the New Deal and the Great Society), and ever-increasing corporate profits and tax evasion, and diminishing taxation of the super-wealthy. The earth’s environment is under increasing stress from carbon emissions (again, one party in Congress stubbornly denies that global warming / climate change even exist, or that humanity is responsible), so the warming and rising seas threaten not only coastal Louisiana but the entire globe, as New York and New Jersey learned from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
Well, on the bright side, there is plenty of work to be done: we shall not lack for causes to advocate for, write about, and urge elected officials and community and business leaders to assist with. Readers’ ideas are always welcome. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we have said many times, National Security Begins at Home. And, as we wrote on our About Us page years ago:
If New Orleans is not safe, no place in this country is safe. . . . Where will the federal government be when you’re down and out? Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, collapsing bridges, hijacked planes . . . If the federal government neglects one city’s disaster, it can neglect them all. Without funding, without investment, things fall apart. The collapse of the physical infrastructure and the hospitals and schools and the justice system after the storm—what’s happening to New Orleans is happening to the entire country—except perhaps in luxury high-rises and gated communities. The Lower Ninth Ward is the national predicament carried to an extreme.
In the next few days we’ll be posting about the upcoming annual Rising Tide conference to be held in New Orleans Saturday, Sept. 13. We’ll also be writing soon about a massive People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, Sept. 21. We’ll be at one but not the other—but both are important and we hope you can be there, too.
Further Reading: Check Out These Important ‘Back Issues’
Levees Not War, a New York–based, New Orleans–dedicated blog, primarily covers the environment, infrastructure, and war and peace. Below are some selections that will appear in The Levees Not War Reader, forthcoming in 2015 from Mid-City Books.
Hurricane Katrina / Environment
BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico (4/26/10)
Interview with Mark Schleifstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms
Interview with Ivor van Heerden, author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina
Interview with Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, authors of Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security
Barack, You’re Totally Our Infrastructure Hero! Obama, in Wisconsin, Calls for $60 Billion National Infrastructure Investment Bank (2/14/08)
War and Peace
Here We Go Again [Syria] (6/14/13)
Politics and Social Issues
In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica (6/12/13)
“Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb”: Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans (7/20/11)
Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline (3/13/11)
Nagasaki, Not Forgotten [65th anniversary] (8/9/10)
“8-29-2005 Remember” design courtesy of Mark Folse.