Tale from my Aunty Anne - a concerned resident
My Aunty Anne lives in New Orleans and understandably her life was turned upside-down when the Huricane hit and flooded the city.
She and many of the other residents are at a loss to understand why so little has been done to help their city withstand floods and hurricanes - both before and after the event. At a loss to explain why the media does not report their tale.
Following a public meeting in the city - they agreed to tell their stories themselves. The story of New Orleans therefore came to me and I pass it on to you.
Greetings from New Orleans!
We went to a meeting of experts and concerned citizens concerning the plight of our city. One of the speakers who works for a national newspaper said that it's up to us citizens to disseminate the truth of what has happened and is happening in our town - we cannot rely on the media. She recommended that we tell everyone we know and ask them to tell everyone they know, etc. so the word gets around. Following her guidance, I'm sharing a bit of what I know, hoping you will pass it on to those you know, so our situation can be understood.
Another speaker at this meeting, a lawyer, mentioned that he was involved in the bill to get funds from our Federal Government to improve our levees since they surround canals which are fingers of Lake Pontchatrain. Their needed improvements were thus included in the Hurricane and Flood Protection Act. When the bill was finally passed in 1990, the improvements agreed upon were EARTHEN levees and the funds distributed were enough to buy the necessary land from the homeowners in order to enlarge these levees. The speaker's mother lived right on the levee, so he visited her to explain that she would have to sell part of her back yard in order to make New Orleans safer with higher levees. He said he doesn't know what happened after that except that the Army Corps of Engineers did not buy people's land and much of the money that was allotted for these improvements promptly disappeared. Meanwhile, a friend who is a contractor and walks his dog around the 17th Street Canal told us that he watched the Army Corps building the "improvements." Instead of the promised earthen levee, they used light peat soil, short pilings, and cheap, light grade concrete to build a concrete wall extension because they couldn't afford anything better. When the water from the lake pressed against this flimsy wall, it toppled, flooding New Orleans.
A man in the audience of our meeting stood up to say he used to work for the Army Corps of Engineers, and he knows for a fact that these "improvements" were built to merely run off the storm surge, not to stand up to water next to them, as in a flood. He encouraged us not to believe what the Army Corps says about the levees being O.K.- "they are NOT!" A woman in the audience mentioned that she knows someone who had moved out of town because he doesn't trust the levees, and he is still employed with the Army Corps of Engineers.
There is a movie out now, Hurricane on the Bayou, that attributes the devastation of New Orleans to the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina, yet a local hurricane expert, Ivor Van Heerden, says 80% of the flooding was caused by the collapse of the levees. Only 20% was caused by the storm surge. The film also neglects to mention that the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a canal that was built in 1965 to diminish the trip of seafaring vessels from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico by 40 miles, has been documented to increase the storm surge by 20-40%. It has also devastated the marshlands that offer protection to New Orleans from hurricanes, (see the book, The Storm, by Ivor Van Heerden). Though the media seems to like to blame Hurricane Katrina ("the worst natural disaster in our country's history"), the fact of the matter is that the destruction of New Orleans was vastly man made - yet there is no accountability.
A petition is being distributed calling for an official impartial investigation into the New Orlean's levees and what happened during Katrina. The "official" investigation in 2006 was led by a Lt. General of the Army Corps of Engineers! Three unofficial investigations found their report, "incomplete and technically inaccurate." Yet, the Army Corps continues to be in charge of the levees that protect 1.5 million people.
Crime is also rampant on the streets and in homes. One group was stealing copper pipes in houses being renovated as soon as they were laid. They were finally caught, but released the next day because there were not enough guards in the prison for them! Criminals of any kind are also being released if their paper work isn't processed within 60 days. Judge David Bell of the criminal justice system spoke to our women's club. He mentioned that the juveniles in the system were ready to evacuate with their families, but the official protocol from FEMA was to separate the children in one bus, the women in another and the men in a third. The reason they gave is they did not know if there were any pedophiles or other criminals in the group, and they wanted to "protect the children," They were all supposed to go to Houston, but the kids were rerouted midway to Arkansas, and the other two buses were also separated and sent to different locations. After we were allowed back into our city, the kids found their way home, "as stray animals often do," only they no longer had viable homes, so they have been living on the streets. FEMA will not release the whereabouts of their parents because they say it goes against privacy laws, but did mention they are safe in trailer park settlements. The judge said he's been trying for 18 months to get the information, and FEMA refuses all approaches. Meanwhile, the kids are fending for themselves with prostitution and theft . . . or are themselves the victims of crimes. Four hundred out of 800 kids in his jurisdiction signed up for school without parental signatures. Monday through Friday, they are getting 2 meals a day, but the summer months are approaching. The judge's story of the lost parents was one of many tales of horror. All the departments seem to say the same thing - "We have no money to do what needs to be done."
A friend mentions how her church has been organizing volunteers from all over the world to come to New Orleans and help people rebuild their homes. She asked, "If our church is able to orchestrate this huge relief effort, why can't the Administration of our technologically advanced country, wealthy from all our tax dollars, do the same?" To us, the answer is obvious . . .
On a positive note, a friend said, "I would never have stopped in the 9th Ward before Katrina - I would have passed through quickly with my doors locked, feeling afraid. After the disaster, I brought over food, supplies and T-shirts and handed them out to whomever I could find. It was a delight and a joy to be there." The tremendous fear of our neighbor that inhibited our interactions before the storm, for a great many of us, has washed away. We're just grateful to be alive!
Please help to spread the news of our current status! Anne & Christine