I was in western China visiting Buddhist caves when Katrina hit and missed most since I did not have access to TV and news. When I got to Shanghai a few days later I was horrified. When I finally got home a few weeks later, I donated money to the cause. I supported the president when he said we will rebuild no matter how much it costs. I have to admit, around the beginning of this year I had started to forget about it. The news stopped talking about it. Then recently there was a “Katrina 6 months later story” on the news here. I felt very guilt. So I decided to visit New Orleans and see what I can do.
This past weekend I visited New Orleans. I stayed with a very good friend who just got back recently. Lucky for him, his home, near the French Quarter, is on a hill and sustained no damage. Quite amazing, his little area was relatively ok. Some roof damage and down trees, but all is ok.
Then we went for a drive. It was night and day. Only about a mile away the roads started to break down into potholed paths and the destruction was all over the place. The place is still a complete mess, 6 months later. Entire neighborhoods are wiped out. I felt like I was on a “Day After Nuclear War” Hollywood set. House after house on street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood was wiped out.
We drove down streets near the water (lower 9th ward) and it is worse then the worst street I ever drove down in sub-Saharan Africa after a bad rain storm. Garbage everywhere, homes gutted, crushed and destroyed. The compete absence of life except for grass.
I can’t even start to describe the destruction. And this is 6+ months later, cleanup has already started. We drove down some streets and got out and walked around. Every single home was destroyed. You heard echoes! In a crowded city street, so quiet, echoes. In areas where the homes were not completely underwater, they were under between 3 and 6 feet of water, so all was lost.
Every single home in New Orleans was searched house to house by the authorities. They spray painted on each house an X that indicated in each quadrant of the X some search information. On the top was the date it was searched and on the left side the agency who searched (National Guard, etc) and on the bottom the number of dead found. (Thankfully there were “only” about 1000 deaths in Katrina. Compared to the Tsunami or the Pakistan Earthquake this is very little.) Dead dogs and cats found were also indicated. It was a sad and gruesome thing to see.
Only 200,000 people are back so far. Businesses that want to reopen can’t since they can’t find workers-there is no place to live. My friend is a chef (a famous one actually!) and we visited a restaurant where he knows the owner. He told us that they had an ad in the paper for over a month to find the workers and only now are starting to hire some people, but at most they will be at 50% power. The waitress told us about the rents getting jacked up since there is now a limited amount of living space.
Having lived through 9/11 and its aftermath on my city, I really have started to live my life differently and look at the world differently. Residents of New Orleans will most certainly do the same. Being a New Yorker I feel that the rest of the world and the country has forgotten the pain that we went through, just 4.5 years ago. I fear the same is happening to New Orleans.