A look back
August 25, 2014 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Then and now in New Orleans as the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches. This time it might not hurt to read the comments.
posted by Anitanola (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Those pictures aren't any less chilling now than they were then.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

The "Industrial Canal" photo shows some of the structures known as "Brad Pitt houses", which are ostensibly designed to be very high-efficiency and very green. That neighborhood still has "tombstones"; a place where a house used to stand but all that remains are three cement steps up to nothing.

I've been down to New Orleans twice with relief teams, and I've always been appalled at what seems to be a near-inability of the local government to accomplish anything.

I worked on a street where a water main had partially ruptured two years earlier. The city came in and put in an above-street pump to move water from one side of the break to the other. The logsheet was attached to the pump and you could see that the city had just been refilling the fuel tank for two years; it was easier than getting a crew out to fix it. Meanwhile, the neighborhood had to listen to this pump running 24/7 (think unmuffled portable generator).

This is a good photo-essay, but it could very easily be interpreted as suggesting that all is well in New Orleans, and I hope that people don't take that message away from it. I fell in love with the people of that city when I was there and I want the best for them in all things.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:43 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

On Thursday I go in for a cardiac stress test at East Jefferson Hospital in Metairie. That's awfully special timing doc, thanks for that.
posted by djeo at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I truly hate George W. Bush.
posted by Flunkie at 12:52 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I truly hate George W. Bush.

You know, I had sort of forgotten how much this was true, but these pictures really bring that good old impotent rage feeling back.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:54 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Interstate 10 at Causeway Boulevard went from a mid-apocalyptic scene to having two new flyover overpasses.

I was wondering how you could tell Lakeview at West End Boulevard was the same before and after, then I saw the Lakeview community sign. Extra impressive/ telling/ startling: the message hasn't been changed in 9 years ("New Basin / Canal Party").
posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on August 25, 2014

I've been meaning to do a before/after series with some of the pictures I took in the first few months after I got back from evacuation. I'll try to do them this fall and have them ready for the tenth anniversary.

How did this much time pass already?
posted by djeo at 1:13 PM on August 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is my most vivid memory from Katrina. The head of Homeland Security talking on NPR and having no clue about where people were or how supplies were going to get to them. He even tried to tell Robert Siegel that there was no one in the convention center when NPR reporters were there reporting on the ground.
posted by octothorpe at 1:30 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

When the water breached the levees, I was in a Red Cross shelter in Texas. It had taken the entire day to get there -- what was usually a three-hour drive had taken more than nine hours, as I was part of what apparently was the largest mass movement of Americans since the Civil War, an ant-trail of cars that stretched from New Orleans to Texas.

The shelter grew more and more crowded as the day passed, and more and more hysterical as people who had just escaped the flooding arrived. The news was on, showing the storm, and discussing what to do if the city floods -- make sure you have a hatchet, we were repeatedly told, as you're going to have to hack your way through your roof or drown. Everyone was on their cell phones, trying to reach family, unable to reach them, panicking.

Then the stories of death started coming. Mostly related to hospitals and nursing homes. People who had died waiting to be evacuated. A group of elderly who had burned to death in a bus en route when an oxygen tank caught fire. We watched numbly as witnesses spoke to cameras, discussing bodies in water in flooded streets. One person talked about passing a downed electrical line, which had struck a dog, who lay there, electrocuted but still alive, with nobody to help it.

At that moment my girlfriend stood up and walked out to the car, where she sat and sobbed. Then we discussed where we would go next, because when the levees broke, we knew we couldn't return. We wouldn't even be allowed to for weeks, and what would we go back to? We loved New Orleans, but it was time to go.

This is still the saddest day of my life. I hope I never have one sadder.
posted by maxsparber at 1:47 PM on August 25, 2014 [17 favorites]

Photos essays about Katrina make me uncomfortable, and I've come to realize it's some form of survivor's guilt. I was living here in New Orleans right up to Saturday, August 27th, 2005. My wife and I got in the car with a few days' change of clothes and the photo albums and headed out. Our place in Mid-City got flooded of course, but we tried to make the best of it. We had no kids, no pets, only the one car, and what the heck? We were tentatively planning to move away from New Orleans anyway. Saved us packing all that stuff, ha ha.

I didn't set foot in the city again until March of 2008, and moved back here in December of 2008. I was not here for the devastation, the eerie silence, the months of backbreaking cleanup, the mold and mildew smells, the razing, rebuilding ... none of it. When I finally came back to town there were signs of what had happened but they were rapidly being smoothed out, and every day that went by it got smoother.

Today I can't think off the top of my head where any Katrina crosses remain in my neighborhood. All the houses have been repainted or torn down. A new shopping center sits where the old one was flooded out. I live not far from where I used to live, and I work in the same building as before. If you could show pre-Katrina-me a video of now-me, he probably would never know this tragedy had happened. My life feels and looks normal.

Photos like these make me feel like a fraud, a sham. People used to ask me (and still do, I guess), "Oh, you lived in New Orleans during Katrina?" and it doesn't matter how much I explain that I left before it hit and I wasn't really there - they inevitably ask, "So did you lose all your stuff?"

Yeah, I did, and I didn't even come back to clean out the apartment, and I stayed away just long enough to let everyone else stitch it all back together. I know that wasn't by design - I was in a dissolving marriage in another city, then off somewhere else to finish college, then back here with a job offer - but I can't help but feel I abandoned this city. I just didn't know how much I wanted to be here until long after it was too late to come back and help fix it.
posted by komara at 1:52 PM on August 25, 2014 [11 favorites]


I have similar survivor's guilt because I didn't stay for the storm and some of my friends and coworkers did. I came back early, broke my back cleaning up some of my stuff and a lot of other people's, and watched the city slowly come back to life. But I wasn't there for the worst of it.

Don't let it bother you too much. We all have stories of what we lived through. We're still here to tell them. That's what's important.
posted by djeo at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

octothorpe, I remember that well:
Sec. CHERTOFF: As I say, I'm telling you that we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging. And, you know, the one thing about an episode like this is if you talk to someone and you get a rumor or you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place. The limitation here on getting food and water to people is the condition on the ground. And as soon as we can physically move through the ground with these assets, we're going to do that. So...
SIEGEL: But, Mr. Secretary, when you say that there is—we shouldn't listen to rumors, these are things coming from reporters who have not only covered many, many other hurricanes; they've covered wars and refugee camps. These aren't rumors. They're seeing thousands of people there.
I was at work. A coworker and I were both listening to the news, on headphones. When we heard that, we both stopped cold, our jaws dropping. We took off our headphones in disbelief - "Did I just hear that right?"

That little period was the only time I can remember that the servile U.S. press would directly challenge a government official like that.
posted by thelonius at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just found When the Levees Broke is on Amazon Prime (Netflix only has it on disc). Of course the whole thing is under $12.
posted by dhartung at 3:16 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

In addition to When the Levees Broke, I also recommend Spike Lee's 2010 followup documentary, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise.
posted by larrybob at 3:30 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most interesting were the lower 9th ward and Cooper project photos. There were people who lived there and their lives are all gone permanently. I hope they mostly landed on their feet but I know a bunch of them did not. In early 2006 I was working in Houston and one of my fellow hurricane refugees asked me "Are you going back?"

I told her no and the look on her face was devastation like one of those Psalms that was written after Judah got wiped out.

By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.
posted by bukvich at 4:16 PM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Before Katrina, I never really understood why people who had witnessed certain events never felt like talking about them.

It's because, I discovered, they don't like thinking about them, either.

As Katrina recedes into the past it gets a little easier to think about, but the habit of not thinking about it is already there. Thinking about it now brings back the hopelessness and futility of describing the hopelessness and futility to someone.

I saw the best people can be, and the worst.
posted by atchafalaya at 9:05 PM on August 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

For those who didn't survive the storm, and for those who never made it back home:

posted by mps at 9:25 PM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I moved to New Orleans for college exactly one year after Katrina.

It wasn't anything heroic, I just wanted to go to Tulane. I remember seeing trees on the drive in that had been destroyed. I remember seeing Katrina crosses on houses. I remember seeing military vehicles driving down the street the day I came in. I remember, that first year, going through neighborhoods and seeing piles of rubble from houses being knocked down in preparation for rebuilding.

I remember we had to do some community service helping clean up a neighborhood. While picking up trash, I came across one of those rubber "cause" bracelets that said, "Save America's Wetlands". I wore that every day for months.

Tulane didn't work out, but I could never leave New Orleans. I'm a thousand miles from my blood but my family is all around me. I watched the pain this city went through as it began to heal. Sure, there were and are dark times when I'm not proud of the people who live here. But there are also moments of greatness when I look around and can't help thinking that this city was meant to survive. I'm so lucky to live here.
posted by Night_owl at 8:04 AM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older I got 99 beers and a bud ain't one   |   "Bake 'em away, toys!" Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments