by Eric Dunbar
August 29th marks the 10th year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and for the residents of New Orleans, recovery from the devastation as a result of Hurricane Katrina has been long and difficult. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, residents of New Orleans have mixed opinions about the rebirth of the city. On this 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina I will admit that the city has made quite a bit of progress, but there is still room for a lot of work to be done.
Hurricane Katrina was the dreaded storm that every New Orleanian feared would happen, and on that dreadful day in 2005, the thing we all feared did happen. On Sunday, August 29, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with a vengeance, devastating our beloved city. The following day the levees failed and the entire city was inundated, leaving thousands of New Orleans residents homeless. My wife and I were among those residents, spending four agonizing days on the roof of Samuel Green School in uptown New Orleans awaiting rescue.
I have fond memories of my beloved city, memories that go back to my childhood years. For example, I remember watching Mardi Gras parades on the corner of Felicity and Camp Streets at age five. Back then the streets in the Irish Chanel were paved with handmade brick. It was a time when Mardi Gras Flame-beau carriers lighted the way of the night parades with fiery torches that burned on top of 12 foot poles. Although these and many more intimate memories are engraved in my mind, sometimes I wonder if the fullness of the nostalgia of the city’s neighborhoods will return.
While New Orleans has survived Katrina’s floodwaters, after Hurricane Katrina the city is now facing new problems that include changing of demographics, escalating rent that costs more than 35 percent of renters’ income, and a shift from residential focus to commercialism. The people who made New Orleans the interesting place that it is can no longer afford to live here anymore.
The city has implemented most of the rebuilding efforts in commercializing the city to attract tourists. But I feel that more can be done to restore the city’s residential areas to its pre-Katrina state. Take the city’s streets for example; one mile outside the CBD some streets can be considered a disaster zone. It is difficult to navigate many of the city’s streets because of potholes, many of them resembling small craters.
Hurricane Katrina forced my wife and I from our rented residence in Uptown New Orleans. When I left the city, I was so devastated and heartbroken about the condition of the city I didn’t think I would never return. But New Orleans is a jealous city that will not allow you live in a love affair with any other city. She calls out to your soul with an invisible passion that only a true New Orleanian can identify. For nine years I was torn between the urgency to get on with my life and the urge to return to my beloved city. Unable to resist the subliminal calls of my beloved city, I could not help but return.
Comedian and talk show host, Ms. Dupre was among those who were impacted by the loss of Katrina’s punch. She identifies with the resilience of the residents of New Orleans in a literary poem she wrote to honor the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, titled, “Untitled” as we celebrate ten years or resilience after Hurricane Katrina.
Although there is still much work to be done in the city, hope is still very much alive in a people who are just too resilient to give up their dream of restoring New Orleans back to a comparable state before Katrina.
Not all past residents of the “Big Easy” are optimistic. While many New Orleanians want to go home, some fear that there is no home to go to, at least not the home they remember.
Janice Brown, a born and bred New Orleanian, is one past resident who has mixed feelings about the outcome of the city, and wonders if she should return home.
“There hasn’t been a day — not one day that I didn’t think about how my family spent a night in a hotel,” said Brown, “only to walk out of it to find the city of my birth drowning to the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.”
“Water everywhere,” she continued. “Sister, brother, mama, daddy — all had 14 feet of water. I initially had none, but after being told by NOPD that water was coming into the heart of the city, I was worried about the shot gun house I rented along the edge of the Garden District. I was sick to my stomach as we loaded up and drove out to family in Shreveport. Driving and watching my mama asleep in the seat next to me holding my 3 year old niece and I began to cry. The sadness grew to a loud sniffle which disturbed my daddy who was wide awake (to make sure I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel).
“The days that followed made me somewhat stronger. Stronger to get my parents a home; stronger to find my brother and my sister-in-law; stronger to get back to the city whose name was on my birth certificate and the city that I wanted to return to. I wanted to go home like it was a race to win something. But I wouldn’t receive a prize.
“Four months later, my daddy died (I’m convinced this shit killed him) and within two months symptoms of Alzheimer would consume my mama…and then a series of strokes. All these things and I still wanted to go home.
“Well it’s been 10 years,” said Brown, “Ten years of praying for a breakthrough to go home. But go home to what? Every year I check to see if rents have fallen. Every year I check to see if there would be a job I could do with my PTSD getting in the way. But each year I’m disappointed and the grief returns. Sporadically finding friends whom I’ve lost since the storm and they too are reporting bouts of depression. It’s been just that. Ten years of depression, moving and changing jobs, because this Texas shit is still not home. I wanna go home. But there’s no home to go to any more.
“Crime in the “New” New Orleans is 40% higher that pre-Katrina. Rents are up 50% higher that pre-Katrina. Friends who live there tell me it is no longer the New Orleans we knew before Katrina.
“So, I’m going to the N.O. Katrina Anniversary to get this monkey off my back — For closure — to say goodbye to my old NOLA and have my own Second Line Funeral.”
If you have a story that you would like to tell about your experiences with Hurricane Katrina or a comment about your life after Katrina, feel free to post story or your comment below. I would love to hear your story.