My Katrina in New York City\r\n\r\n When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was living in a loft in New York City with all of my friends from college. I wasn\'t from New York, none of us were. We were all from New Orleans (or the outskirts of the city), so once we knew about the storm there was no doubt that the impending disaster was heading for our true home. For me, New Orleans was home and always would be. However, the years I lived there after college; all the Saturday nights I spent in the quarter, all the parades I stood alongside, all the games I went to, and all the memories I made, would never be enough for me to truly share the struggle of New Orleans that would be the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.\r\n The news of the storm came along at almost the last minute. My closest friends and I all lived together in a big loft space in Brooklyn. I\'ve often compared the Loft to something like being on a ship at sea. There were five rooms of plywood walls and one bathroom. We had one large gymnasium style window in the back that practically no one got to enjoy. We lived five or six stops away from anything of interest on the L Train, so we never had visitors. If you came to see the guys at the Loft, you were making a special trip. This was only the beginning of the isolation we had from the world. \r\n In 2006 I had been in New York City just under three years. And unless you know people who can plug you in to a good job, the first three years in New York are spent on the poverty line. I didn\'t go places or meet people. My friends and I couldn\'t afford to meet up at bars for a drink, or go to movies, it just wasn\'t possible. New York City is already an isolated city that rarely knows whats going on beyond it\'s own boundaries, so when my roommate came into the TV room with a phone to his ear and told us to turn it to the Weather Channel, we had no idea what was coming.\r\n There was a hush. We\'d never seen anything like what we were seeing. Keep in mind, this is the first time any of us had even heard about this hurricane about to make landfall right on top of New Orleans. One of my roommates later put it best. If the Gulf of Mexico were a basketball rim, Katrina was as big as the basketball. I can\'t say it was fright or dread or sadness I experienced when I saw this scene. I\'m sure much of New Orleans and the surrounding area felt something like I did, plain disbelief, or a complete lack of understanding of what this thing meant. \r\n I remember dropping down there on the edge of the couch, trying to wrap my brain around this thing. The eye of it was like a perfect circle. It was just so incredible, and so much more than any other storm I had seen on TV, that I had no point of reference. It was like a war was coming to New Orleans, and we got to the news just as the missiles were in the air. \r\n The next day was surreal. The coverage of the storm had not yet built up steam. We knew that terrible things had gone on, but nobody else around us did. Just like the tsunami a couple years before, people around me knew about it, but it was a world away. We were refugees in a sense, a thousand miles from our home that was destroyed. Though I admit at the time, I too didn\'t fully understand the impact.\r\n The pictures we found online began to hammer home the point. We knew what New Orleans looked like when it flooded. We knew where we should see water and where we shouldn\'t. Every place we knew we shouldn\'t see water, we did. As the days went on, we began to understand what it was that everyone else in the country didn\'t understand. A house doesn\'t have to be completely gone to still be destroyed. Just a foot of water, twelve inches, means rebuilding the house from the inside out. Every stick of furniture is lost. People outside of a world that floods from time to time don\'t understand that in this case, these families lose practically everything. The couch that costs eight-hundred dollars, a mattress in the master bedroom, maybe a thousand. The china cabinet two generations old is priceless Phones, radios, surge protectors, pictures, shoes, the little filing cabinet where a family keeps tax returns and crayon drawings from their kids elementary school days, all this is lost. We didn\'t understand this, and in a very real sense, I believe that most people in America still don\'t understand this. This is of course the best case scenario. If a house takes water it may need new plumbing, new wiring and new doors. There is so much more in a house than the foundation, roof and saturated drywall. This lack of understanding in America of what rebuilding really means, I believe, is something that really burns the people of New Orleans. \r\n In New York City they too have their tragedy story. Many of the people I knew were there during 9/11. They talked about the smoke, the dust and the debris. Everyone who lived in one of the five burroughs could see the cloud of destruction no matter how for away they lived. That was an office building. There were a lot of fatalities, and I should be delicate in comparing the two because families were destroyed and lives were changed. But in New York in the weeks that followed 9/11, you could go to a bar and commiserate with your friends. You could go to a drug store, a grocery store and you could catch a flight home or to the country for a vacation. Strictly speaking in terms of money, the families of the 9/11 disaster collected settlements in the neighborhood of 1.2 million dollars. The world came together for 9/11 as they should, but there was something missing in the America\'s response to Hurricane Katrina. This was what confused me the most. \r\n Once the news caught up and people like us and the rest of the country were let in on what was really going on, we saw the exodus of survivors that had grind to a halt. People packed like animals at the Super Dome waiting to get out. People still stuck on rooves, waving at helicopters, holding signs and calling for food, water, and rescue. They looked as bewildered as I felt. Where was the help? The thing about this situation is that I know a thing or two about what the government can do in terms of logistics. Why weren\'t they doing it?\r\n By the time the United States and the Allies were wrapping up the Second World war, America had become an expert at logistics. As a nation we could bring food, water, and supplies by air to any location within HUNDREDS of miles of an air base. In 1944 America with her industrial might, had two and a half ton trucks driving bumper to bumper, day and night, from Normandy France to halfway across Europe. All this made possible, might I add, by an incredible \'mobile\' shipping port designed by U.S. Engineers put together for just the purpose of moving supplies quickly into this never ending caravan of trucks. This was sixty years ago. \r\n In terms of moving mass amounts of men and supplies, the 1940\'s was a mere dress-rehearsal. It was the rookie season of supply and logistics in the modern world. Today, the United States is bad-ass at moving men and bringing food and water from one place to another. If somebody picks a fight with America, we can drop ten thousand men in their backyard in forty-eight hours (Wheels up on the first plane happens in eighteen). That\'s just one division in one base in one state in America. This says nothing of the helicopters, rubber assault boats, and modern supply trucks that the government has at it\'s disposal. So I am forced to ask: where was all the logistical support? \r\n I was dumbfounded by lack of government action. I wasn\'t mad, or pissed off, I simply didn\'t understand it. There are military planners who would be licking their chops at the chance to get in there fast and get the job done right. Now, I have given some thought to the timing of Katrina in terms of the national stage. We had begun the war with Iraq and military support was probably deeply tied up in no small way. This is something that should be considered when I ask where the government was in terms of the immediate response. \r\n However, there is something to be said about how little it would take in terms of resources to do the job right in New Orleans after the storm. First of all, the locations where the people were cut off and massing didn\'t have any medical support. We could have easily gotten an aid station into these locations hours after the people started to arrive. A medical unit, if undermanned because of the war, would have surely been overwhelmed. But they would have been there, and that would have made a difference, if for no other reason than for piece of mind of the people. There was no clean water or food of any kind. By the second day, when the President understood the situation, I would have expected to see multiple checkpoints scattered through the city where people could walk to to get a soldiers ration of food and water. How many two and a half ton trucks would it take to keep these checkpoints supplied? Twenty? Fifty? I bet there are that many sitting around all the army reserve bases in Louisiana alone. I doubt the Wal-Mart corporation would have minded if the government cleaned out all their distribution centers of canned foods and bottled water in the southern states to help aid the people. \r\n I don\'t want to understate all the relief and support that came from all over the country to help the stranded people of New Orleans. A lot of people performed many selfless acts at great risk to themselves. Food eventually came from all over. Doctors and medical personal were dispatched from all over the country. I also understand that there is a certain explosive danger in filling a city engulfed in chaos with a massive amount of nervous soldiers armed with automatic weapons. In fact, I think that it is very easy to say that this was a huge concern among planners dealing with the disaster. But I also think it is easy to say that if the logistics were popping on all cylinders; if the United States government were getting supplies in, and getting people out the way they truly know how, and the way few other nations are capable, the danger would have been greatly reduced. The people stranded on roofs and in flooded neighborhoods were stretched to the limit, and many of them were armed. Couple that with the fact that the local law enforcement were pushed physically and emotionally in ways we could never imagine—it\'s really hard to place blame, much less understand—how the situation could get so dangerously out of hand. However,I have trouble imagining the chaos getting the the level it did, if every truck that unloaded a group of armed soldiers to keep order, was followed by another truck with food, water and medical supplies. I find it impossible to believe that this couldn\'t have been achieved by sunrise on day three. \r\n All this talk about logistics and rescuing people trapped in attics is only the very beginning of the disaster that Katrina became. In a very large sense it is really the only aspect that most people from other places can understand. The pictures don\'t explain it. The news bites just can\'t bring it home. The documentaries, though some of them are incredible, can\'t cast that weight that hangs on the hearts of those who experienced it. The American people are not cold, and I am certain that they are genuinely invested in trying to understand empathetically what it was all about. I saw proof of this for years after, while I was in New York. When people found I was from New Orleans they wanted to know my story, and they wanted to know because it really mattered to them. I, of course, had no story. My story was pretty much the same as theirs, distant and uninformed. \r\n It took me a while to come up with a way to try and answer the question of Katrina when I was asked, I finally settled on this: \"Imagine all of downtown Manhattan from 14th street to the financial district completely destroyed and sitting in eight feet of water for two months. Then put another six to twelve inches of water in practically every house between Union Square and 72nd street. Then, shut off the power, turn off the water and close every single grocery, pharmacy, gas station and corner store. This is roughly the situation for the first year.\"\r\n I\'m inwardly shocked sometimes at the lack of effect this had on people. They just couldn\'t understand—they couldn\'t imagine it. Probably, they simply couldn\'t believe me entirely. These are very tangible examples I would use, but nobody in America (myself included) could believe that a situation could really stay that bad for so long. Five years later, the people of New Orleans are just happy that there are no trees in the street, or over-turned cars still sitting in abandoned houses. Many people here in the city count themselves lucky that they were able to come back and have a job. Practically everyone knows someone who never made it back for one reason or another, and most of those reasons are completely unavoidable. \r\n I am not a Katrina victim. In a very real sense I am sad and ashamed that I wasn\'t. New Orleans is my city, my culture and it\'s where my heart is. I know the way the plants smell in the spring and I know the way the dome sounds on a play-off run. I know how to negotiate Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras day, and I know how fast the cops will allow you to go on the Causeway. I\'ve lived in other places, but New Orleans has always been my home and always will be. No matter how many ways I can prove that New Orleans is my home, for me, there will never be a \'before the storm\' and \'after the storm.\' It just wasn\'t my storm. But there is a role I can play in the post Katrina era of New Orleans. I wasn\'t here for the hard times, but I understand now that I can be here for something else. \r\n I moved here with strong intention. New York had run it\'s course, and there was never any doubt that I would live here in the city when I moved back. My place will be in the new New Orleans. I can do more than pass down the culture that tends to dilute in any place over a span of time. I can learn why things here are as they are. I can do a bigger part in moving the city forward, than I ever could have done had there not been a storm. \r\n I am part of the beginning of newcomers to New Orleans and I can bring with me the innocent love for the city that so many people lost in the wake of Katrina. The people of the storm who are still here have hacked their way through all of it and come out the other side, weary and betrayed in some sense. I can never share that with them, but I\'ll try and be the voice to others who don\'t know. I can try and spread the idea that New Orleans matters, all of it matters. People like me, and I believe there are a lot, have come here to love the city and be a part of it. There is a new group moving in, and I believe that in a large sense, they come to serve the city—not take advantage of it. That is what my purpose in New Orleans will be. \r\n This is my Katrina experience. I don\'t know if I\'ll teach, or write, or work for the city, but at this point that doesn\'t matter. What does matter is that Katrina has given me purpose. I haven\'t just moved to New Orleans, I\'ve joined up to serve.

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“[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed July 12, 2024, https://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/43208.

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