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-The Five Spot

Thursday, September 4, 2008

trouble in the water

Imagine if the place you knew as home no longer existed? The town you grew up in was wiped off the map. That church where you were baptised razed to the ground. Your high school alma mater abandoned and neglected. Pretty disturbing thoughts.

While perusing the internets, I came across this over at The Breaking Point. Lord Hannibal asked "Is New Orleans Habitable?" It is a valid question, especially since I'm chillaxin on a week-long evacucation from New Orleans due to Hurricane Gustav. He raised some interesting points to consider:

Much of New Orleans, which was all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, sits below sea level. While it’s debatable that the city is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, what can’t be debated is that it’s highly vulnerable to the potentially devastating effects of hurricanes.
. . .
I appreciate that New Orleans, with its rich culture and unique history, is the literal and figurative home of some people whose roots can be traced to the migration of 1809, but at what point does reality trump sentiment?

Now since I'm a New-New Orleanian, I'd quibble with the notion that "much" of the city "was all but destroyed" by Katrina but large parts of it do indeed lie below sea level. While Katrina's devastation was widespread, especially in areas like the 9th Ward and the Lower 9th Ward, other areas only sustained minor damage, like the Garden District, Uptown, and the Westbank. Nevertheless, I fully appreciate the devastation that hurricanes can cause on coastal cities and towns.

I grew up riding out hurricanes with candles and battery operated radios in a Georgia city prone to flooding because of its low lying location along the Atlantic Ocean. We'd watch the newscast with diligence and listen as the grown folks of the family assessed whatever storm was bearing down on us based on David and Hugo. Evacuating or at least considering evacuating at the end of every summer was a part of our lives in the same way that my cousins in Brooklyn got snow days when the city experienced a particularly brutal winter storm. In elementary school, we had tornado and hurricane drills where we huddled in the hallways with our bodies pressed against the wall with faces between our knees.

But is there a point at which this "reality" will ever trump "sentiment"? People's connection to a place is more, in my estimation, than mere sentiment. A place represents culture, history and home. A home that many families have known for generations since a time when this "home" was nothing more than a brutal surrogate for a no longer knowable home-land. It would be hard to imagine an abandonment of such a place. My great-uncle who refused to leave his home when most everyone else evacuated would have waved away any talk of the uninhabitability of his home. Not the one that he had labored for years to earn by putting aside every week and sacrificing the now for the rewards of the later. No reality could trump that.

So then what is the reality? New Orleans and many of America's coastal communities sit at or below sea level. An undeniably dangerous place to be. But perhaps these places have become more dangerous over time. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the "sea level is rising more rapidly along the U.S. coast than worldwide." Global warming may very well be contributing to the rise of sea levels and the level of danger facing cities like New Orleans. The reality is that with the level of scientific engineering skills that we have within this country, we can do more to help protect first human life and second our cultural properties through planning. Planning that slows and ultimately stops the effects of global warming on our coasts. Planning levees that will withstand the strongest categories of hurricanes. Planning that will get people out of harm's way at the threat of a hurricane.

I just can't imagine no longer visiting Saint Peter Claver Church or listening to the Rebirth Brass Band on Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf. Sentimental maybe, but living in New Orleans is my reality and the reality of a lot of folks, something not given up lightly if at all.

What say you?


LH said...

80 per cent of New Orleans was under water in the wake of Katrina and to this day there are people who are unaccounted for. More, the city's population isn't quite 2/3 what it was prior to the hurricane.

If that doesn't describe being all but destroyed, I don't know what would.

"People's connection to a place is more, in my estimation, than mere sentiment."

If a hurricane or other natural disaster destroys one's home, that's reality. It isn't as though New Orleans is a stranger to hurricanes. If not sentiment, what else would explain why a person would not only stay in harm's way, but do so defiantly?

i.l.l. said...

Mint Julep,

fellow New Orleanian (sort of: West Bank girl, but a Prepper) and general lurker.

The thing that bugs me most about the question of whether or not New Orleans should be rebuilt is that it is by no stretch of the imagination the only American city to constantly deal with natural disasters. No one has ever asked "why rebuild south Florida." No one has ever asked 1.) why we should feel such sympathy for millionaires losing their million-dollar homes to California wildfires...again or 2.) "why continue to build homes in southern California."

I'm not a conspiracy-theorist or race baiter or anything like that, but why does this question come up so frequently about a 2/3 black city and not anywhere else? New Orleans will always be vulnerable to hurricanes. Period. But we can rebuild, with a stronger levee system and better evacuation plans.

We lost my grandmother's house after Hurricane Gustav, and that was in Vacherie (St. James Parish, if you don't know.) Nothing hurts like not being able to go home. The world seems to understand that for everyone (including Suzanne Sommers and Ed McMahon) but us.

Sevesteen said...

It is certainly possible to rebuild New Orleans. It would be possible to rebuild Detroit. Can I get my share of the rebuilding? Lots we can rebuild, but we can't do everything--What are the priorities? Why should I pay, because some people want to live below sea level?

mint julep said...

@ LH, I hear you but I think my point is that for people who live in areas where hurricanes are a way of life, be it Cuba, the Florida Keys, or NOLA, dealing with mother nature is there reality and if they have to evacuate and re-build one hundred times they will.

@i.l.l., welcome and thanks for de-lurking. amen sista amen! sorry to hear about your grandmother's home. i pray ya'll will be able to re-build.

@sevesteen, it's part of living in America, we each contribute to the good of the nation. my taxes go to rebuild damaged highways in michigan the same way it goes to rebuilding levees in nola to rebuilding homes in california.