Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans and the Wrath of God

It was originally thought that New Orleans had dodged the bullet with Hurricane Katrina, but with the light of day, it has appeared that the worst has happened. One of the levees has been breached, with water entering the city wetting parts of the city that had previously been dry. New Orleans is a poor city where most people who could get out did, but those remaining, about 20% of the city's population could not leave as they live from paycheck to paycheck and they rely on mass transportation to get around.

The situation is dire. Some parts of town are under as much as 20 feet of water. It will not drain out, nor can the sun dry it out. The place has degenerated into anarchy. There is no electricity and without that the pumps that the elaborate engineering system relies on will not work. There will be no electricity for as much as 2 months. No food, no refrigeration. While I do not condone looting, perhaps in this case it may be justified, for it is each man/woman/child fending for themselves. The whole city will need to be completely evacuated, including the 10,000 or so stranded at the Superdome. They have 'shelter', ie, a leaky roof and surrounded by water, but they are probably low on food, patience and good humor.

Add to this the water is contaminated with everything imaginable, chemicals, gas, human waste, dead animals as well as people and it is only a matter of time when the mosquitoes arrive bearing a whole host of disease. You have seen the good and bad in this situation - the rescue effort of the people stranded on rooftops as well as scenes of looting. If you want to see what an apocolyptic scene would look like, this is it. I hope the remainig residents of New Orleans have relatives who can take them in for the long haul. Biloxi residents have fared even worse.

I have been blessed to have visited some of America's greatest cities - New York, Boston, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Memphis to name a few, and I regret that I haven't been to either New Orleans or Biloxi, MS, although these two cities were on my list. I would have loved to walked the same streets that have inspired great Southern writers, like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Anne Rice and Robert Penn Warren. But tou can't replace historical sites like antebellum houses, The Myrtles, St. Louis Cemetary and other landmarks. They can try to rebuild them, but something is permanently lost.

Now the question is not can New Orleans rebuild, but should it? Having a city built under sea level is tempting fate. Bourbon Street will come back, but something will be permanently destroyed and the Dixieland Jazz just will not be the same anymore. If you visit in two years, you'll be visiting the 'new' New Orleans, not the 'old'.

This is America's Tsunami. Let's see who are friends are and see who comes to our aid.


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