The Katrina Aftermath: Seeing Is Disbelieving

Those of you who have been around the Dog’s house for a while know that I was deployed by the American Red Cross (ARC) to New Orleans on October 29th. My deployment involved the continued efforts surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

The things I saw more than two months after Katrina devastated coastal Louisiana and Mississippi shocked and disturbed me at a deep and very personal level. One cannot look upon the damage and not be affected. Seasoned disaster workers and military personnel are awed by the destruction. Some have been moved to tears; others take it in with a long and difficult swallow. It is like looking into the mouth of Hell. Once one has glimpsed the horror, one will never again be the same. Admittedly without first-hand knowledge, I can only imagine a war zone could be a more disturbing experience.

Pictures can never do justice to the magnitude and breadth of the devastation. With their limited scope, they are insufficient and unable to expose the vast wasteland in its totality. Even when confronted firsthand, it’s nearly impossible to wrap one’s mind around it. In the greatest challenge to my authorial abilities, I will humbly attempt to use words to convey what I know they cannot. Please bear with me in my attempt. It’s a story I need to tell . . . and, one I hope you will want to read.

The reality of Katrina began to unveil itself before I stepped foot in New Orleans. Upon approach for landing, I looked out over the broken city and destroyed wetlands. A surreal mixture of visual images embodied the two sides of Katrina – fire and water, the Hell and the flood. Huge piles of foliage debris burned in various areas around the city. Thick, wide swathes of smoke plumed into the air, eventually coloring and corrupting all it touched. In a rather nasty turn of fate, the area has received virtutaly no rainfall since Katrina — with the exception of one day last week. The parishes now operate under a threat of fire destruction with the massive amount of “fuel” debris that remains in heaps throughout the area.

In and around the city, row after row of house roofs were wrapped in blue tarps. It appeared (at that height) that the water was still rolling over and engulfing the New Orleans houses in huge and consuming waves — frozen in time and eternally destructive.

Upon exiting the relatively empty airport, the smell of the burning debris hung heavy in the then-hot and humid air. Its presence acts as a constant reminder of the infernos seen from the sky and the struggle for a breath of normalcy on the ground. Cabs, rental cars and hotels are still at a premium. Few stores or restaurants have opened their doors to the public. They simply don’t have the staff with which to function. The working class evacuated New Orleans and has not returned. They have few places to live. Corporate icons also struggle to maintain a presence in the city. McDonald’s manages to keep their drive-thru open with a limited menu. Walmart has restocked and reopened – if you want to spend an hour waiting in the lines that wind their way throughout the store. With its warehouse destroyed, the UPS has established a reportedly dysfunctional distribution center in one of the city’s parks. There is no “normal” in New Orleans. The ghost of Katrina still haunts the city and the other affected areas.

While the world embraces the reopening of the French Quarter, they have forgotten about the city’s general population. Many have left never to return. Whether by necessity or choice, vast areas of the city have become virtual ghost towns. Those brave souls determined to resurrect their lives and carry on sift through the detritus of their belongings – yearning to save any small part of their former lives that provides a reminder of their past and hope for the future. They face a daunting struggle to reclaim their lives, many in areas that haven’t had power restored or streets cleared of debris.

Some that braved the storm, evacuation and return have now decided to leave. For financial and/or emotional reasons, they have given up their quest in exchange for a new one: a chance for a new and better life elsewhere. When talking with some of them, I could see the pain in their eyes . . . the loss they felt at giving up and giving in to the pressures of their situation. Occasionally, a glimmer of hope would shine through at the prospect of “something better.” For many of them, “normal” was the most that they sought.

It was just the beginning of my enlightenment. The full reality of Katrina had yet to be experienced.

More tomorrow . . . .

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2 Responses to “The Katrina Aftermath: Seeing Is Disbelieving”

  1. Alison says:

    We take too much for granted. I hope some semblance of normality returns soon. Xmas may be too early i guess. My heart goes out to all of N.O’s citizens.

  2. […] Big Dog: Seeing is Disbelieving While the world embraces the reopening of the French Quarter, they have forgotten about the city’s general population. Many have left never to return. Whether by necessity or choice, vast areas of the city have become virtual ghost towns. Those brave souls determined to resurrect their lives and carry on sift through the detritus of their belongings – yearning to save any small part of their former lives that provides a reminder of their past and hope for the future. They face a daunting struggle to reclaim their lives, many in areas that haven’t had power restored or streets cleared of debris. […]