Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Katrina Recovery and The People

During our drive between New Orleans and Ft. Chiswell, VA, one of the topics of conversation was the recovery of New Orleans. Some of our impressions are presented here along with photos of the skies over our campground near Lake Ponchartrain.

This was our third visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. On none of these visits have we taken any tour—organized or on our
own—through the areas hardest hit by the effects of the hurricane, the surge, and the breaks in the levees. To drive through the area with our only response being to turn our heads to survey the damage seemed, to us, to be an insensitive activity. Without wielding a hammer, clearing debris, or serving food to workers, we felt as though we would be distancing ourselves from the real work that needed to be done.

But we did meet people who had lived through the emotional and structural devasta-tion. We listened to people we met in City Park, in a local diner, and at the city’s festivals and learned about their resilience and character through their accounts of their rebuilding efforts.

From stories of returning to their homes after seeing them
“under seven feet of water” or with “water up to the roof line,” the people would talk about the efforts to rebuild.

“In our community of 27 homes, we all rebuilt,” was the proud summary of the work of one resident who lived south of New Orleans.

There was no bitterness, no resent-ment, but an acceptance of what life in the city and its surrounding waters was like. And a pride in the resolve of themselves and many neighbors to not be defeated by this storm and its effects.

But there was also a resigned acceptance of reality: “If it happens again, I wouldn’t rebuild. I just couldn’t.”

When we expressed our praise for the strength of the people to overcome the impact of Katrina, people were reluctant to acknowledge any special sign of their will and character, stating in a matter-of-fact way: “It was what we had to do.”

It was our impression from listening to residents and reading various anecdotal accounts in the newspaper that restoring the “institutions” of the city was very important to the city’s survival. (For New Orleanians, the “institutions” centered
around neighbor-hood, food, and music.) Seeing the corner restaurant owner set up a grill and table to distribute a hot meal to people from homes with no power sent the message that “we can survive.”

Presenting a Mardi Gras schedule (albeit a reduced one) of parades and a Jazz Fest (with a memorable emotional performance by Bruce Springsteen) may have led the rest of the country to question the decision to party, but to New Orleanians these events were proof that the city spirit and the will of its people would definitely bring the city back.

We wondered how listening to some of these resilient community groups might improve the labor-intensive work of rebuilding and creating anew communities devastated by future natural disasters.

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