New Orleans, Louisiana—oh, what a marvelous city! It is a town known for its diverse people, delicious cuisine, soulful music, and an extremely rich culture, in general. However, in recent years, New Orleans has suffered major setbacks. The town was hit especially hard when Hurricane Katrina tore threw the area, exactly 5 years and 2 weeks ago today.
The date was August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina impacted the city with brute force. Although a large portion of New Orleans managed to escape, the eastern section was significantly affected. The massive hurricane resulted in extensive flooding which demolished homes and other property, roads, cars, trees, oil refineries, and everything else in its path.
Katrina not only destroyed roads and property, but also claimed the lives of thousands of residents. Survivors were forced to view the horrible sight of dead bodies floating in water or decomposing on the streets. In many cases, those who survived were rendered helpless when they attempted to prevent their loved ones from drowning in the intense floods. It was later determined that most of the dead were elderly residents who lived near the levee breaches.
As the water levels continued to rise, people began climbing up to the roofs and attics of their homes as a means of escape. One man painfully recalls how the flooding took away his wife. He tried desperately to hold onto to her, but she told him to ‘let her go’ and instead, ‘look after their children and grandchildren’. To this day, his wife’s body has not been recovered. Frequently, the man who is disabled and struggling, financially, just breaks down and cries.
‘Drowning’ was not the only fatal impact caused by the increasing water levels. Later effects included a contaminated and disease infested water supply, lack of food, dehydration, exhaustion, extreme overheating, and lack of proper medical care, as several hospitals floated in water.
Communication was also affected, due to downed power lines and destruction of base stations. Consequently, newscasters and reporters were forced to rely heavily on the Internet as a means of getting the word out to the rest of the world. Lack of proper and timely communication quite possibly delayed the rescue mission, which many complained was ‘too little, too late’. Survivors blamed the US Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and most notably the federal government for not acting quickly enough to provide relief from their miserable conditions.
Previously, New Orleans had been hit by another hurricane in the year 1965. The flooding caused by Hurricane Betsy resulted in the Congressional passing of ‘The Flood Control Act of 1965’. Essentially, the act called for the construction of levees and dams as a means of protecting New Orleans from flood damage. The levee construction was scheduled to be completed by the year 2015, approximately 50 years after Hurricane Betsy. Although New Orleans was able to escape the forecasted flooding of another hurricane (Hurricane Georges in September, 1998), scientists and other officials became wary. And in October, 2001, a publication titled, ‘Scientific American’ predicted that ‘New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen’.
Therefore, when Katrina came tearing threw on August 29, 2005, it was not totally unexpected. In fact the National Weather Service had issued a warning of massive destruction caused by Katrina, just one day prior to its occurrence. Due to these warnings and prior events, government officials proceeded to issue evacuation orders to the New Orleans residents. Mr. Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center called Mayor Ray Nagin to express his forebodings about the impending effects of the hurricane two days before it hit. Then on August 28, Mayfield contacted then President George W. Bush via a video conference call expressing his concerns.
As early as August 26, many residents heeded the warnings of Mayor Nagin by attempting to secure their homes and preparing to evacuate, if necessary. Although there were several evacuees, many, especially the elderly, refused to leave their homes for sentimental reasons. Some felt obligated to hold onto their property, because they were emotionally attached to them, while others remained due to lack of sufficient finances. Still others felt their homes would provide ample protection and safety against the ravages of the storm.
Rescue efforts included bus deployment to shelters such as the New Orleans Superdome, the New Orleans Convention Center, and the Houston Astrodome. However, these shelters only provided temporary respite, as civil unrest and lawlessness became rampant. It was rumored that the extremely unsanitary conditions, overcrowding (the centers were literally bursting at the seams), poisonous food and contaminated water supplies, as well as food and water shortages, led to looting and pillaging of property. Additionally, there were reports of suicide, fighting, rape, and a drug overdose. In general, people were miserable, and they expressed their misery in their attitudes and actions. To restore some sense of order, the National Guard was called in.
By September 2, an emergency triage center had been established to treat the sick, the elderly, and those who had been wounded. Although conditions at the triage were described as a being ‘chaotic’, they were adequate enough to be able to handle their mission. By September 3, it was estimated that approximately 42,000 evacuees had been rescued from the Superdome and the Convention Center. Then on September 6, the National Guard, together with Mayor Ray Nagin proceeded to enforce evacuation of those who remained in the city, unless they were involved in the restoration efforts.
Survivors had a special ‘beef’ against FEMA and its head Mr. Michael Brown, whom they say did not respond quickly enough to alleviate the deplorable effects of the storm. Many also placed a large portion of the blame on then President Bush. The US Army Corps has accepted some of the blame for the disaster, admitting that the infrastructures they designed were faulty. The flood walls and levees were not strong enough to withstand the soil erosion, and therefore when Katrina hit, they breached. The breached levees resulted in the massive flooding.
Several weeks following Katrina, volunteers, mostly Hispanics and youth, poured into the city to assist with the clean up and reconstruction efforts. Today, five years later, New Orleans continues to rebuild and renew. Many homes have been rebuilt, and there are plans for new schools. In addition to FEMA, the US Army Corps, the American Red Cross, and the federal government and various other agencies, have all contributed to the restoration mission. Complete restoration is not expected until five more years have elapsed.
Despite all the trauma and heartache they have been subjected to, New Orleans residents remain positive and upbeat about their situation. Their spirits have not been dampened, and they look forward to a complete recovery. Residents are hopeful, and truly feel a better day lies ahead.