President George W. Bush and his wife Laura visited Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology on August 29th, the second anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast causing massive failure of the levees and flood walls, killing more than 1,500 people. "New Orleans is better off today than it was yesterday," Bush said. "And it will be better off tomorrow than it is today." Now that's eloquent.
KATRINA UPDATE JUNE 1, 2007:
Here we go again.
Today marks the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season. It runs through November 30. As if we've had enough to deal with in the last 21 months, we have to endure this cycle every year. We lucked out last season. Although forecasters had predicted an active season, we had an "El Niņo" cycle in which the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean actually contribute to a milder hurricane season in the Atlantic. I don't quite understand it, but we'll take it. However, such is not the case year, and forecasters are predicting 17 named storms, nine hurricanes, and 5 major (category three or higher) hurricanes.
They say the population of the city is up to 250,000 now, but I'm not sure anyone believes it. There is still debris everywhere, and there are neighborhoods that have not come back. We still live it everyday. Every move we make, every thought, every action is still related, in one way or another, to Hurricane Katrina. While a few more non-Katrina assignments are finding their way into my daily routine, my work is still is still largely about the storm. I recently returned from a week-long lecture tour in California. I did three presentations, three private presentations for friends, as well as a couple of dress rehearsals. By the time I gave my last talk at UC Santa Barbara, I was almost catatonic. I could barely move. I went to the beach and watched the surf for an hour or so. It helped a little, but the need to get away, to remove oneself from the day-to-day realities of living in New Orleans are inescapable.
Like most of us, I long for the day when I can pick up the paper, or turn on the television, and Katrina isn't mentioned. When we don't talk about it any more at parties or over lunch or dinner; when it doesn't effect our daily lives anymore. But that is still many years away. And keep in mind that I didn't lose my house; I didn't have to deal with insurance companies that didn't want to pay, or dishonest contractors, or the Road Home Program that ultimately has not lead anyone home. My life has been relatively "normal."
A lot has to happen before the city returns to anything resembling normal. Having levees that will within stand a category three storm would be a start. No one, and I mean one here, has any confidence in the job the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done re-building the levees: the same levees that they didn't built right the first time. The Corps has already admitted that flaws in the design and construction led to the catastrophic failures in the levee system that all but destroyed our city.
But, as I have said before, the levees are moot unless a commitment is made to restore and protect the wetlands. The wetlands have served as a buffer for storms for centuries. Without them we are sitting ducks. But decades of oil and gas exploration, and the construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (Mr. GO. A 79 mile ship channel that provides a short cut from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans) has allowed salt water intrusion to erode the wetlands. They say we lose six football fields worth of wetlands a day. Does anyone care? Is anyone doing anything about it? Is it too late? We'll see what this hurricane season brings. If we are spared, come November, we'll breath a huge sign of relief, and then wait for the next season and do it all over again. In the meantime, it's like walking through a emotional minefield. Is this any way to live?
I have finally mounted a new Katrina gallery entitled "Mr. G and the Rev." It's my first since the anniversary gallery I put up last September. It has been very hard for me to continue to work on this story. I'm trying to be more hopefully and more upbeat, but it is hard knowing what I have seen. I try to keep the story alive by following Mr. Herbert Gettridge. Gettridge, 83, built his house in the Lower Ninth Ward with his own hands. He returned fairly quickly and began the overwhelming task of rebuiliding. He is a man of great determination. He gives me some hope.
And I find hope in photographing Pastor Raymond Hunter and his congregation at Eagle's Wings Ministries Church of God in Christ. Pastor Hunter is very resilient. Every set back, every hurtle is a challenge to be overcome. He re-built his church and has continue to minister to his congregation. Pastor Hunter also gives me some hope for the future. These are just two stories in a vast sea of untold emotional tales. They can flood our neighborhoods, but they can't wash away our human spirit.
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