Angola? Congo? No, Louisiana
When the Levee Broke
Hurricane Katrina yanks at the threads of a fragile New Orleans society
by Anya Kamenetz
August 31st, 2005 11:0
If you've visited the city as a tourist or a conventioneer, most of the places you probably remember—the balconies of the Quarter, the mansions of the Garden District, and the leafy neighborhoods of Uptown—did not go underwater in the first deluge. They were all built a long time ago by rich people on marginally higher ground, so they were suffering only from downed tree branches and power and water outages until the levee breach started a second water flow. Counterintuitively, it's better to be closer to the river, since that's where the levee and the ground is built up.
On the other hand, New Orleans East and the Ninth Ward, home of Dirty South rappers like Juvenile and the Cash Money Crew, flooded up to the rooftops. As did Treme, just northwest of the Quarter, the home of the Treme Brass Band and Louis Armstrong Park. Jefferson Parish, the suburban land of Barnes and Noble and Old Navy, out to and including the airport, is swamped. Lakeview, a quiet, older northern residential neighborhood where a lot of cops live and people don't lock their doors, is flooded too. And every hour that the levees stay open, the water will rise.
That is the physical damage as of now. Then there will be Katrina's more far-reaching harm, caused by the ways in which the Gulf South is part of the Caribbean Rim. The city of New Orleans has a 34 percent poverty rate, triple the national average. It's about 70 percent black. White flight, first to Jefferson Parish and then across Lake Pontchartrain, to the North Shore, has accomplished the desired aim of de facto segregation in the public schools, which are 93 percent black in Orleans Parish and some of the worst in the country. (My sister and I attended the two good public schools, Lusher and Franklin, which are little multiethnic magnet islands massively resented by the rest of the city.)
Knowing this, and that many of the neighborhoods destroyed were the poorest in the city, provides a little context for such incidents as Tuesday's riot in the Wal-Mart parking lot, where even the cops were spotted lifting some electronics. Elsewhere, a looter shot a police officer in the head today, critically wounding him.
This stuff is bad and it's only going to get worse. To belabor the obvious, a lot of the people who stayed did so because they didn't have the money to leave. An estimated hundred thousand had no cars. Many didn't have jobs in the first place, and now they don't have homes, and there's plenty of stored-up resentment to go around. The city government cleared out Tuesday night, leaving a sinking ship. Irony #1: The Wal-Mart free-for-all began when neighborhood residents were invited to a real giveaway of food and cleaning supplies, then started to help themselves. Irony #2: This particular Wal-Mart was built only a few years ago, over strenuous neighborhood objections, as the commercial hub of a mixed-income public-private housing development for which they tore down the decrepit St. Thomas projects. This renovation was widely credited with sparking a vicious outbreak of violence as displaced gang members searched for new turf. The same civic leaders who cut that deal will now be charged with rebuilding the entire city essentially from scratch.
It's the same in Mississippi
Anger rises among Mississippi's poor after Katrina
By Paul Simao
"Many people didn't have the financial means to get out," said Alan LeBreton, 41, an apartment superintendent who lived on Biloxi's seaside road, now in ruins. "That's a crime and people are angry about it."
Many of the town's well-off heeded authorities' warnings to flee north, joining thousands of others who traveled from the Gulf Coast into northern Mississippi and Alabama, Georgia and other nearby states.
Hotels along the interstates and other main roads were packed with these temporary refugees. Gas stations and convenience stores -- at least those that were open -- sold out of water, ice and other supplies within hours.
But others could not afford to join them, either because they didn't own a car or couldn't raise funds for even the cheapest motel.
"No way we could do that," said Willie Rhetta, a bus driver, who remained in his home to await Katrina.
Resentment at being left behind in the path of one of the fiercest hurricanes on record may have contributed to some of the looting that occurred in Biloxi and other coastal communities.
A number of private residences, including some in upscale neighborhoods, were targeted, residents said.
Class divisions, which often fall along racial lines in this once-segregated southern state, are not new to Mississippi. It traditionally is one of the poorest states in the United States.
In 2004, Mississippi had the second lowest median household income and the highest percentage of people -- 21.6 percent -- living in poverty, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
posted by Steve @ 1:13:00 AM