Thursday, August 28, 2014

Katrina Plus Nine

Nine years is a long time. Sometimes I feel as if Katrina happened to someone else, and I suppose that in a sense it did. I’ll never again be the woman I was on August 28, 2005. (Yes, Katrina hit on the 29th, but for me the most painful anniversary is the day before, the day we packed up and fled our city; by the time midnight rolled around, we knew we were doomed.). That woman, the B. K. one, was more carefree, more naive. Less anxious. Certainly less skilled in how to rebuild a house and restore flooded furniture.

She didn’t know how to gut a house with a wrecking bar or hang and finish drywall. She didn’t know—really know—just how thin the veneer of civilization is,  how quickly so many things she once took for granted--food, gas, police, firemen--could be torn away. Can be torn away. She’d never sat at the bedside of a loved one dying in a hospital with boarded up windows and no laundry service. She’d never had to bury someone at a cemetery in a small town up the river because the family mausoleum was still under water. She’d never looked at mile after mile of destroyed houses for so long that they started looking normal.

Every year, we go through this. The anniversary rolls around, and we remember, and then we try to forget. Last year, we spent Katrina Plus Eight without power as yet another hurricane took aim at New Orleans and didn’t seem to want to go away. At least this year when we raise our glasses in remembrance, we’ll be able to see what we’re doing.

Cheers, everyone.


Susan J. said...

How sad these pictures look. I remember watching the news coverage of the aftermath of Katrina and I have to say the polititians seemed very slow off the mark to get any rescue package in place. Is that the significance of the 'no politians' sign on the boat? I remember the British government sent food parcels, as food seemed not to be getting through to the disaster area but the American customs would not led them through! I remember seeing heartbreaking scenes of people not wanting to leave their homes and elderly people in distress with no medical equipment or clean laundry available. They did actually look like scenes in a Third World country. How tragic for you to have a relative dying at the same time, it must have been hell.

cs harris said...

Susan, the scary thing is I took these pictures in August 2006, a full year later. Recovery was so slow to get underway, partially because New Orleans is relatively isolated by water and so much was destroyed, but largely because politicians bungled so badly.

JustWingingIt said...

Sometimes it's hard to think that it's been nine years since Katrina. I remember being up all night watching CNN and not believing some of the things I was seeing. It must've seemed like armageddon or any post-apocalyptic tv show or movie ever made. But the ability of the human spirit to persevere in the face of adversity is pretty amazing too. For you and the rest of the New Orleans faithful, well done.


Lynne said...

Oh, have me crying all over again. I remember watching the Weather Channel for hours and just being stunned at what happened. But I have tried to forget because seeing the destruction was just too difficult. I tend to do that with all natural disasters...put it out of my head because it's just too emotional. You, on the other hand, have to live with it and pray that it never happens again. I feel blessed because we only have to worry about wildfires and an occasional bad winter...oh, yeah, there was that Mt. St. Helens thing awhile back. But I think you are very brave to stay put in New Orleans, knowing how vulnerable that part of the country is. And, oh, do I remember the politicians...there's a conversation that could last a few days! Thanks for sharing the photos and thoughts...and the beautiful shot of the ocean.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't think about it a lot consciously. I can feel when this time of year rolls around, though. I can feel it hidden in the back coils of my mind. Not a pleasant state.

cs harris said...

Veronica, ironically, since I was hunkered down without power, you saw what was happening when I didn't. We were getting text messages from my daughter's boyfriend in D.C., giving us updates.

Lynne, my sister recently left San Francisco because she was worried about earthquakes, and now she lives in a ski resort in Idaho and worries about wildfires. So while there are probably safe places, I'm not sure where they are! I will never forget the sky going black at noon when Mt. St. Helens blew, and living with all that ash for months and months afterwards.

Charles, yes, I hadn't realize how much my recent funk had to do with this looming anniversary.

Susan J said...

Reading all the comments, it makes me realise how vulnerable we all are in the modern world of climate change. We've had so many floods in the UK lately, you may have seen news footage of Prince William and Harry helping pile up sand bags. In Lincolnshire where I live we are subject to floods. In the 1950's the seasisde town of Mablethorpe had a terible flood in which many people died and it almost reached the town of Alford near where I live. We had a flash flood with water coming off the fields in 2008 in our village of Willoughby but fortunately the local Council have dug new drains and changed the direction of the water now. But every time there is a tidal surge people on the Lincolnshire coast and villages in the reclaimed fenland have to be on alert.

Susan J. said...

I mean 'seaside' and 'terrible'. Sorry about the typo's!

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

If it helps, you know we're all thinking of you and your family. I just returned from GA's 'golden' coast and, hurricanes always on my mind, I hope they don't muck with the marshlands. I learned that they make up about one-third of the marshes on the Atlantic coast. Take care.

Liz said...

I haven't read your blog in a while, but I'm listening to the magical voice of Davina Porter narrating your latest, so I was reminded to check back in. We were living in Washington, DC during Katrina, and it was horrifying just to watch. I can't begin to imagine actually living through it. I often wonder if what happened there would happen here in Canada in a similar natural disaster. One likes to think not, but you are probably right that civilization can disintegrate very quickly. Speaking of which, I'm reading Margaret Atwood's "The Year of the Flood". So apt.

cs harris said...

Susan, watching all the floods in England makes me fill ill. My husband and I keep saying we want to move out of the bowl that is New Orleans when he retires, but the problem is, move to where?

Barbara, we tried to sue the oil companies that destroyed our wetlands and made us so vulnerable to hurricanes, but our lovely governor, who has been hand groomed by the oil companies as their lapdog for decades, put a stop to that in a hurry.

Liv, I think it's true of any place. My sister was living in San Francisco when it Katrina hit and came down to pick up our mother for several months. What she saw here made her go home and really fine tune their earthquake prep, and then eventually leave the Bay Area.

Susan J. said...

It must be hard to contemplate moving from an area you love. I think you said your mother's house was out of the area subject to flooding, could you not move there and sell your house instead? Or maybe it's too small. I suppose hurricanes would still cause damage, even without flooding though. So glad we only get the tail end of them here!

paz said...

Places that are dear to us help us imagine -- some would say help us recognize -- who we are and where we belong. When those landscapes are transformed, particularly when the change is sudden, violent and radical, the sense of belonging that we derive from these images is shattered. We fundamentally loose a part of our "self."

I join the chorus of readers reaching out to you to offer comfort as you remember and mourn what you lost in aftermath of Katrina.

cs harris said...

Susan, yes, my mother's house is on Metairie Ridge, a remarkable SIX FEET above sea level (and thus 9 feet higher than my house). But it's just too small--almost half the size of our house. Where would we put all the books--and cats?

Paz, beautifully said. Thank you.

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