Wednesday, August 5, 2009

1 times 4 by More~August 28th,2005

Credit: Win Henderson, FEMA
Credit: Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA.

Credit: Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA.

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?
By: William Rivers Pitt, TRUTHOUT

"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, And miss it each night and day? I know I'm not wrong, the feeling's getting stronger, The longer I stay away" ... - Louis Armstrong

Monday 03 August 2009 -
The city of New Orleans will be on the minds of many in the coming days and weeks. The four-year anniversary of the worst civil catastrophe in American history - one of the worst such catastrophes in all of human history - will soon be upon us. It was four years ago, the length of one presidential term, that a storm came, and the seas rose, and the levees fell and a city was, for all practical purposes, murdered right before our eyes.

Four years ago, it happened like this.

On August 23, 2005, Tropical Depression Twelve swallowed up the remains of Tropical Depression Ten over the Bahamas and Puerto Rico and began moving towards the United States. Two days later, the storm was designated a hurricane and named Katrina. It made landfall in Florida and swung to the south-southwest, gathering strength from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

A day later, the storm's track was recalibrated by the National Hurricane Center, with the line pointing straight into the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency, and the Louisiana National Guard was mobilized.
By dawn the next day, Katrina had become a Category 3 hurricane.

Evacuations, at first voluntary and later mandatory, were ordered in the parishes that lay across the path of the storm. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin emphasized to residents of the Ninth Ward to get a head start on the evacuation. Ten truckloads of water and meals were delivered to the Superdome, enough to support 15,000 refugees for three days.

That night, George W. Bush was briefed by National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield on the status of and potential danger posed by Katrina. Forty minutes after midnight, Katrina became a Category 4 hurricane.

By 7:00 AM (CDT), Katrina had become a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph and gusts up to 215 mph.

The storm was expected to make landfall overnight, and New Orleans lay directly in its path. Mayor Nagin ordered the mandatory evacuation of the city, and close to 30,000 people poured into the Superdome seeking shelter. George W. Bush participated in a video conference with Max Mayfield and FEMA Director Michael Brown, who warned Mr. Bush that the storm was more severe than Andrew, was headed directly for New Orleans and the city's levees were in grave danger of collapse. Brown emphatically described Katrina as "the big one."

Mr. Bush said exactly 40 words - one sentence promising support - and stayed mute for the rest of the meeting.That was Sunday, August 28, 2005, the last day the city of New Orleans would exist as we have known it. At 6:10 AM (CDT) the next day, Katrina made landfall in Louisiana.

By the end of that Monday, virtually the entire city of New Orleans was under more than ten feet of water. Rooftops began to disappear under the incoming tide. Levee after levee failed, an event later blamed on the Louisiana Army Corps of Engineers, despite the fact that George W. Bush that same year had stripped more than $70 million in funding for the maintenance of those levees - virtually the entire Louisiana COE budget - to pay for his ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like a slow-motion nightmare, Americans watched the steady annihilation of New Orleans unfold on television while Bush discussed immigration with Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, shared a birthday cake photo-op with Sen. John McCain, promoted his Medicare Drug Benefit plan in Arizona and California and went to bed without responding to Governor Blanco's urgent plea for assistance. "Mr. President, we need your help," read the message she had relayed to Bush that day. "We need everything you've got."

There would be no reply that day.

It was not until the middle of the next day that Director Chertoff became aware that the New Orleans levees had failed and that the city was in mortal peril. Mr. Bush played guitar on television with country star Mark Willis next to split-screen images of bodies floating in the floodwaters and scenes of residents "looting" stores, much of which was perpetrated by stranded citizens seeking food and shelter. It had been three days since tens of thousands of people had sought shelter in the Superdome, food and water were running out, sanitary conditions were execrable, the heat became overwhelming and people started dying like insects stuffed in a killing bottle by a cruel, sadistic child. Residents trying to flee across the bridge were turned back at gunpoint.

The city of New Orleans finally collapsed into chaos and drowned in salt water on national television.

A city still stands where New Orleans once was, and bears the same name, but it is not the same city, and never will be again. The death toll will never be known, because the river and the swamp and the sea took so many and kept them, because those who were lost were mostly the unnumbered poor who lacked the means to flee, because back in those days, we didn't do body counts. Thousands upon thousands of the city's residents are still gone four years later, either to the grave or to far-flung points on the compass, evacuees with no way to return home and, in many cases, no homes to return to. Most of the Ninth Ward still remains a sculpture of rubble and destruction to this day.

What does it mean to miss New Orleans?

It means knowing that one of the most golden citadels of our shared history - a cradle of multiculturalism, the birthplace of jazz, seed corn of so much that is America - was allowed to die of neglect, disdain, racism, greed and simple stupidity right before our eyes. A city stands where New Orleans once was, but it is not New Orleans, not really. All that was the city, all that it gave this country, and so many of the people who lived there, are gone forever.

Do not forget, do not let your children forget, what it means to miss New Orleans.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

1 comment:

Sabrina said...

It's hard to believe it's been four years since Hurricane Katrina. Seems like yesterday. I would love to visit New Orleans someday.