Oh Katrina!

By: sonofabeach96

Aug 29 2015

Category: Uncategorized


imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageIt’s hard to believe this many years ago, but today is the 10th anniversary of the most costly natural disaster in US history.  Estimates are reportedly $108 billion in damages.  And the human toll was immense, with nearly 2,000 people killed, hundreds of thousands displaced, and countless others had their existence turned upside down.  There was even a death attributed to Katrina here in Kentucky, as her remnants passed through as a tropical depression.  And this doesn’t even count the millions not directly effected by the storm, but who lost faith in a government unable, or unwilling, to respond when it’s citizens needed it most.

The city of New Orleans actually escaped the brunt of the eye, as it made landfall across the coast of southeastern Louisiana and eventually took a last-minute turn east before slamming the coast of Mississippi.  Little coastal towns such as Waveland, Bay St Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs, all of them along the Mississippi coast, took a direct hit.  The storm downgraded from a Cat 4 to a Cat 3 as it made landfall, but it still packed a punch.  It was very large indeed, with its easternmost outer edges extending across coastal Alabama and into the Florida panhandle. It had been a Category 5 the day prior to roaring ashore.

Most in New Orleans were relieved when the eye sideswiped the city.  A friend of mine, living on the edge of the French Quarter, says he remembers thinking, “Whew, we dodged a bullet there!”, as the storm seemingly took its worst towards the east in the dark early morning hours.  It was a full-on hurricane, don’t get me wrong.  And was certain to cause some damage and loss of life, even with her skirting the edge of the city.  But, it appeared that it was one they could withstand.   One with bite, but nothing on the level of what many thought could have been, if the Crescent City had taken a direct shot from the eye. However, by morning light, it was obvious that the worst-case scenario was occurring.  The levees held up, for the most part, during the initial height of the storm and subsequent tide surge.  But the incessant pressure eventually sabotaged the levees, from underneath.  Once the water saturated below the inner concrete flood wall, particularly the levees to the west and east of the city, they began to sag, and eventually fail, succumbing to the pressure.  The levees to the south of the city, along the Mississippi River side of town, held, for the most part.  The ones on the Lake Ponchartrain side of the city did not.   At that point, there were no safety measures, and 80% of the city became submerged, some neighborhoods in 20 ft of water.  It basically filled up like a bowl.

While New Orleans commanded most of the media coverage, in Mississippi, the unimaginable wall of water from the tide surge, some estimate at 16-20 ft,  completely erased communities from the map and altered the topography and scenery for years, even to this day.  If one had seen this place prior to Katrina and then after, it’s unrecognizable in many ways.  Pre-civil war mansions, 100 year old beach cottages, and 300 year old live oak trees are no longer there.  But, eerily, many of the foundations, steps, pools, and diving boards still remain.  Like ruins, left as monuments to the devastation, and akin to the artistic carvings created in the naked trunks of those old oaks along Hwy 90, stripped of all their branches by tide surge that reached the height of their canopies and 150 mph winds.

My mother-in-law lived in Long Beach, MS for nearly 30 years before her death.  She and many friends and family took shelter at her house the weekend of the storm.  Mainly because her house is roughly a mile in from the beach.  They thought they’d be safe.  Katrina took the roof off her barn, tore a 200 year old live oak up from the roots, and nearly broke out every window in the house.  But the house still stands and we all use it for getaways theses days.  Luckily, even though one of the majestic live oaks on the property was uprooted, the other six remained, alive and well to this day.  Those closer to the beach weren’t so fortunate.  Most lost everything, and what wasn’t washed away in the swift and tall tide surge was ruined from water damage.  For years after the storm, people set up camp on their lots, in RV’s, pop-ups, and FEMA trailers.  It looked like a tent city and was prompted by a lack of support and non-payment of policies by insurance company’s.  Their stance was that the damage was caused by water, not wind.  They said it was the tide surge that caused the destruction.  And that the folks without flood insurance were outta luck.  Policies were null and void, money to rebuild was withheld, and people eventually gave in.  Many moved inland, fearful of rebuilding.  Knowing full well that its just a matter of time.  Before another storm, maybe even more devastating, comes along.  Some locals remember Hurricane Camille from the early 60’s.  They remember thinking, “There’ll never be another Camille!”.  Turns out, Katrina was worse.  Some simply couldn’t bear the thought of going through this again.  I’d guess maybe 40% of what was there pre-Katrina has been repaired or rebuilt.  Some still own the lots where beautiful old homes once stood and come for days at the beach or cookouts.  Bunches of the lots have For Sale signs on them.  They now live in Jackson, Memphis, or other towns a safe distance from the threat of an angry sea washing their life’s work away.

The initial response by state and federal agencies was just as despicable as the treatment dished out by insurance giants, especially in New Orleans.   People were stranded in their attics, some drowning there as the water rose relentlessly.  At the Superdome, the “Shelter of Last Resort” for those unable or unwilling to evacuate, people faced deplorable conditions.  No electricity, water, food.  inoperable bathroom facilities.  Stifling heat and humidity.  For Days!!!  Or those attempting to wade through sometimes 15-20 feet of rancid flood water to highway overpasses, desperately trying to reach somewhere, anywhere dry.  For days!!!  I-10 became a refugee camp.  People died right there on the damn interstate.  Ignored by the rest of the world for days!  And when some people were able to reach the elevated Crescent City Connector bridge, they were turned away from the neighboring suburb of Gretna by armed police officers!  Why?!?  They were sent right back to the hell from which they somehow had just escaped.  People on rooftops, nursing home residents abandoned, hospital staffs working on generator light and power while watching supplies dwindle, with no way to replenish.  For days!!!.  It was pathetic to sit and watch while people suffered needlessly.  People died, I’m certain of it, because of a lack of immediate attention.  Even the NOPD had officers abandon their posts and disappear into the fray.  We all saw it!  We all watched Anderson Cooper reporting from I-10 overpasses as people appeared out of the murky waters, exhausted, hungry, and bereft of anything.  For days!!!

There were 53 total levee breaches in metro New Orleans.  The Army Corps of Engineers was assigned blame for these failures in a lawsuit settled in 2008.  That’s little consolation to the people who lived in  the lower 9th ward and St Bernard Parrish, or any other area that flooded due to shoddy construction and antiquated design flaws.   There was a wall of water released suddenly upon whole neighborhoods, and they didn’t stand a chance.  And, as is often the case in natural disasters, those neighborhoods hardest hit were the poorest and contained many who were unable to evacuate due to finances and lack of access to a vehicle.  The most vulnerable were the hardest hit.  It was heartbreaking to see a parking lot full of school busses, all of them flooded to the windows, that could have been utilized to assist those who couldn’t evacuate on their own.  It killed me to see the poorest and least capable left to fend for themselves.  For days!!!  It was a horrible display of poor leadership, unpreparedness, and inaction that borders on criminal.

And speaking of fending for themselves, while waiting on the National Guard, FEMA, and state assistance that was still days away from fruition, it was the citizens of the cities and towns along the coast who transformed themselves into rescuers, using their own boats, or ones they commandeered, to make trip after trip into neighborhoods, ferrying people out of the quagmire and to the relative safety of the Superdome and elevated overpasses.  The Coast Guard was nearly the only official entity present immediately, in both New Orleans and Mississippi, rescuing as many as possible from rooftops and attics.  They, and countless other volunteers, did what they could, tirelessly, to portage people to higher ground.  But, once people arrived to the Superdome, and eventually the Convention Center after the roof of the Superdome failed, they found only more suffering.  Stuck there, no way out of the city, no food, no water, no diapers, no formula, etc.  For days!!!

Finally, the government took notice.  Finally, the President saw first-hand the scale and scope.  Finally, people were evacuated fully, after languishing in deplorable conditions for days!!!  It was a huge disaster.  And it was a huge failure of public policy as well as state and federal emergency management.   It was immensely costly in loss of life.  And for nearly 4 days, it’s as if the United States government didn’t care, didn’t notice, or both.  This was not in some far off land.  It was within the borders of the lower 48.  But one would’ve thought this was not really a part of the US.  And the state of Louisiana, Gov Blanco, Mayor Nagin?  All should be considered negligent.  FEMA Director Michael Brown was even forced to resign after this gross display of ineptitude.   Pathetic, irresponsible, negligent, and nearly criminal response by the NOPD was evident as well.  It was an epic failure and everyone with a TV watched it play out in astonishment.

The entire affair was a lesson in what NOT to do.  How NOT to build levees.  How NOT to issue voluntary evacuations, vs mandatory, to severely at-risk areas.  How NOT to respond as a government.  How NOT to lead a police department, city, and state.  How NOT to ignore a major city in the United States and treat its citizens as second rate and disposable.  It was unacceptable and, hopefully, all have learned how TO respond to this sort of emergency in a more efficient and effective manner.  I think the way Sandy was handled speaks to the lessons learned.  Granted, Sandy was not near the scale of destruction left behind by Katrina, but it was handled much better.  Being that it was in New Jersey/New York vs the Deep South may be a factor, but I’ll try not to be cynical.

The positive that came from this mess was the resiliency and fortitude of those who’ve stayed.  Those who’ve worked diligently to rebuild, restore, and renew one of the greatest cities in the world and one of the most beautiful coastlines in America.  New Orleans will never be quite the same.  Nor will the coast of Mississippi.  With the loss of so much of its original population, there’s no way it could be.  The city, and the coast of MS,  has a feel, a vibe, an essence.  That doesn’t necessarily come from the food, architecture, or history.  It comes from its people.  And many of them are now elsewhere, even after their roots were generations long.  But, this new Big Easy has the potential to grow, refresh itself, and start writing its new chapters.  And raising the next generation, to understand and appreciate its rich and varied past, yet look forward to progressing into its new future.  It is, after all, still New Orleans.  It’s still Long Beach.  It’s still Bay St Louis.  And so on.  It will always be a unique, special, and diverse city and region.  Overcoming adversity, and doing it with hard work and big personality is what they do there.  They’ve been down before, but their fortitude sees them through.  It will again.  So, to my beloved New Orleans, and my adopted love of Long Beach, MS, I say: Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

May all those who lost their life in Katrina rest in peace, and may your death not be in vain.  And to all my family and friends in New Orleans, Slidell, LA, Waveland, Ms, Long Beach, MS, and Pass Christian, MS never have to face the beast again!  I love y’all, and we’ll see ya soon!

My songs of the day are all New Orleans or hurricane related:

“Hurricane Waters” by Citizen Cope

“Oh Katrina” by The Duhks

“The Mighty Flood” by The Batture Boys

“Do Whatcha Wanna” by The Rebirth Brass Band

“Sunny Days” by Lauren Cunningham

“The Flood” by Eilen Jewell

“Dance Back From The Grave” by Marc Cohn

“Any Other Day” by Wyclef Jean (featuring Norah Jones)

“All These People” by Harry Connick Jr

“Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” by The Rebirth Brass Band

7 comments on “Oh Katrina!”

  1. Sorry to hear of your mother-in-law’s passing.

    I grew up in West Monroe, Louisiana, in the 80s and 90s. It is in the northern part of Louisiana. It was widely known that New Orleans was ill prepared for a storm of that magnitude and the results were not surprising as the levees crumbled.

    Those types of situations bring out both the best and worst in humanity and we saw both that day. From people looting for unnecessary items such as big screen televisions, to people risking their own lives to save others. We truly learn what people are about in days like that.

    I understand the feeling you get from looking at the remnants of houses. I often encounter ruins where stairs remain or perhaps even just an inlet for a driveway. It makes me wonder what the structure looked like and why it is now gone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The sad part is that I remember what the bare foundations and vacant lots held. I remember the families having parties, the kids swimming in those pools, and people swing from tire swings. All gone! Most of New Orleans has recovered. It’s been open for business, so to speak, for a few years now. Unfortunately, the MS coast has not had that level of return. It breaks my heart whenever we are there, driving 90 between Ocean Springs and Bay St Louis. I don’t think it’ll ever be the same, at least not in my lifetime. And as far as the levees, yes, it’s been known for decades that this could’ve have happened. Yet, as usual, government action was reactionary vs proactive. Resulting in what happened in 2005. And I have my doubts as to whether what changes were made will protect the city any more than what had already failed. It’s only a matter of time before another storm rolls along. Guess we’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d like to say we learn from the experiences of our past, but in society as a whole, we have shown we do not and repeat the same mistakes.

        So many people lost everything and were forced to start over, somehow, someway.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, and there are still, to this day, people in New Orleans, Slidell, and all down the coast of MS who are trying to recover, 10 years after the fact. Looking for stuff on tv yesterday about Katrina and found ONE show. It’s all been forgotten by most of America. That’s a travesty that should NEVER be forgotten. Of course, even in the midst of it happening, these people were largely ignored. Watching that show last night brought back all the anger and frustration, but it’s now as if it never happened. People would have been outraged if Sandy had been handled that way!


  2. I spent a week in the Lower 9th Ward a few summers ago to do some work on an empty lot. The house had been swept away, but the elderly lady who had lived there wanted to rebuild and move on. My group and I were continually humbled and extremely saddened as we drove through the area to get to the lot. Such a horrible disaster. It won’t be forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s still all but abandoned in that neighborhood. Don’t think most of the folks who were evacuated could afford to move back and have settled elsewhere. I’ve been going there for 30 years now and the saddest part of it all is that a lot of the people who’d lived there for generations are now gone. I lived there for 18 months and its a part of me. I can’t imagine how hard it was for people to leave after having had all of their roots there. Hope we all learned a little something from the whole affair.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] anyone with damage statistics and particulars.  I did so last year, on the 10th anniversary, here (Oh Katrina), if interested.  Nor will I debate anyone on why so many didn’t evacuate, or whether the […]


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