The Lower Ninth Ward. Ten years later.
I’m not going to retell the neighborhood story of Hurricane Katrina. Most of you saw it live and on CNN. No matter what words I add, the facts are simple. The storm pounded the entire area. The levee alone MRGO broke and an entire neighborhood was wiped out. Destroyed. Houses turned upside down. Houses piled on top of each other. Houses piled on top of cars. Cars piled on top of cars. Many deaths here. To me, the whole neighborhood, whether rebuilt or just laying fallow, is sacred ground. Every time that I go there I try to honor that.
I have two distinct memories of this place that took place during the storm and a few weeks later.
We found a hotel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a business class hotel. That’s important. You’ll see why in a few lines. We thought we were far enough away. Traffic was brutal. A normal 70 minute drive took 8 hours. Unlike so many, we hunkered down in comfort. Lucky us. The room was a little suite with a big bedroom, living room and dining room. They did not normally allow dogs. But, they did for the storm. We went to bed and something woke me early in the morning. The power failed. You know how that is. The usual hums, buzzes and pops come to an end. Complete silence.
The storm had reached us.
I went outside. Even though we where in the far western revolution of the cyclonic winds, it was hellish. Not wanting to wake anybody, I laid down on the couch and sweated. You know. Summer. Southeastern Louisiana humidity. I turned the television on, knowing that it would wake everybody when the power resumed. I fell asleep. Sure enough, I awoke to CNN on the tube. I don’t remember the time. I don’t remember if I was looking at scenes from the Lower 9th Ward or Lakeview, both of which were flooded under about 15 feet of water. My memory of that is very hazy and seems to be in conflict of various published time lines. But, I remember seeing the submerged houses and seeing water pouring through holes in the levee and thinking, “Oh no. We aren’t going home any time soon.”
Oh, the business class hotel and its importance? It was wired into the business grid of Baton Rouge right near I-10. The power company got the power up in hours. Unlike many places.
My second memory.
We relocated temporarily to Lake Charles. I started a weekly commute to New Orleans to empty out the house. My neighbor — Mr. Joe, remember him? — was back and working on his house. He told me not to go looking around, especially in the Lower 9th Ward. I didn’t listen. I rarely do. That’s about the first place I went. When I returned to our neighborhood I sat down beside him on the stoop. I was shell-shocked. My eyes showed it. My body posture showed it. He looked at me and said, “I told you not to go, but like a moth drawn to a flame…”
First, a word about actor Brad Pitt. He and his organization, called Make It Right, are responsible for the modern houses. They are totally green. They are built to withstand our heat and humidity. There is a nice little neighborhood springing up around the first of them. He said in a ten-year anniversary interview, that he knew he wanted to do something and “I knew a lot of cool architects, designers and builders…” That’s how good stuff happens. Somebody with a big Rolodex and a desire to help out. At one point, there was a draft Brad Pitt for mayor movement. He replied humbly and graciously. He thanked everybody and said, “I’m not that guy. I don’t stay focused long enough.” This little area of the Lower 9th Ward is now being called “Make It Right.” That’s common around here. Neighborhoods are sub groups of wards.
Back to the pictures.
- That’s the rebuilt levee. It doesn’t look anything like the original. The yellow area is painted over graffiti. Everything gets that doesn’t move gets tagged in this city.
- Remains of what was somebody’s home. In case you are wondering to my reference about “sitting on a stoop,” these steps are a stoop. I’ve photographed this location from the side, with a second line parade passing by. I’ll do that again this year. On August 29th.
- A newly built home with its shipping containers. You might not know this, but I do. The shipping code, CAXU means they came from China.
- I don’t know if that’s a left over from the storm. After all, it’s been ten years. But, those flat bottom boats are what was used to rescue people from their flooded homes. It seems like a symbol to me. A rescue crew in one them saved one of our musical legends. Fats Domino. Where would rock n roll be without him?
- Tennessee Street. The heart of Make It Right. Looks like some other place.
There is one thing to remember. You can see pictures of the damaged and semi-repaired Lower 9th Ward anywhere. Just about everybody has taken some. Around here tour buses used to pass through with tourists snapping away like mad. “Disaster tourism” was one phrase used to describe that. I can tell you a few more, but they aren’t fit for a family blog site. I’m working very hard to avoid “disaster snapshots.” These are my pictures of what I saw on Monday, eight days before the ten-year anniversary of the thing we around here call, “The Storm.”