Sunday, August 27, 2006

Katrina Relocations

I just saw this graphic from the New York Times showing where New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina now live. I am sobered to see graphically how far that storm blew people. Most moved elsewhere in the New Orleans area or other South Louisiana locations, but almost 60,000 are in Texas, 11,000 in Atlanta, and a fair number went as far as Seattle.


Denise said...

Louisiana has a slogan and ad campaign I see quite regularly here in Houston. As posted by Jeff, there are quite a few displaced New Orleans residents here.

The link is:

No matter where Louisianians go, that smell of gumbo, the sounds of jazz and the chant of "Geaux Tigers!" follows you all your life!

Adam Hebert said...

i'm sorry if this comes out of nowhere, but the recent news reports have made me want to snap, and i figure discussing this with my family is a much better idea than with people on my own blog....

with the exception of the poor souls who ended up in mississippi, they're all in cleaner places with better schools and less crime. boy, life sure is awful for them now, especially when they had things so good in the 9th ward. now they'll just have to spend their government checks in better cities to live and raise their families instead of the god forsaken hellhole where they used to. let's face it: new orleans is a city so corrupt, so badly run and crime-ridden that it would have been better off governed by a pack of cannibalistic creationist crack smoking wild turkeys.

look, losing your home is terrible, but at some point (katrina's 1 year anniversary perhaps?) you have to realize that your life is better now that you're out of the ghetto. more new orleanians ARE realizing this, even though the press often still apparently doesn't get it because they keep wondering why people aren't returning. as reported in every major news outlet, people aren't in a rush to move back. well why should they? it may have been home, but now that they're in seattle/chicago/charlotte they're gaining perspective on something: life can be better than it has been.

for god's sake, the levees haven't even been built higher to protect from another katrina-strength storm! the flood valve sytems haven't been fixed! who wants to go home to another potential disaster where you'll lose what little you can scrape together?

it is odd to me that people and the press expect the residents to come back before their safety (at least from hurricane flooding) is guaranteed. to tell people that they should go home to n.o. in its current state is a horrible idea. at the very least, the levees must first be built higher.

this is such an obvious viewpoint that i never see mentioned, so i just have to throw it out there. i'm making sense right? also worth noting: i've been there twice since the storm, staying for days at a time. i've walked through the destruction firsthand, so don't think i'm just spouting this off from a distance and have no perspective. (though i am at a distance now. no hurricanes in athens thankyouverymuch!)

i could go into this deeper, and on my own blog i just might later, but this already been too long of a comment.

Jeff Hebert said...

Adam said:...with the exception of the poor souls who ended up in mississippi, they're all in cleaner places with better schools and less crime. boy, life sure is awful for them now, especially when they had things so good in the 9th ward.

Out of respect for a relative whom I love, I will restrict myself to saying that I found this post absolutely appalling.

Adam Hebert said...

aaww man now i went and hurt somebody's feelings. i try not to be a jerk, but it seems when i start expressing myself honestly, people get mad. this isn't the first time, but it'll hopefully be the last.

my point was that these people have been given an opportunity to make a better life out of the worst of circumstances, and many of them are taking advantage of it. but for some reason, they're being told to come home to a place where their leaders are still failing to take care of the citizens' vital needs. how is that so wrong? where's the offense?

i thought that you, being the most open minded, least dogmatic, and quick witted member of my family was the one person i could count on to not come down on me for my thoughts. if what i thought is strange, unpopular or off-kilter, this blog should be the place where i'd expect that to be ok. to me, i just said out loud what was blatantly obvious. sorry if it was offensive too. the last thing i ever plan on doing is upsetting my uncle jeff, who i look up to more than i've ever admitted.

was it the first sentence? yeah, i started off with a crack about mississippi. i've never been a fan of that state and that's no secret, but i was just kidding! starting light, y'know?

that does it though. i'm done with volunteering what i think. no one has to suffer from any serious posts from me from now on. sorry.

Jeff Hebert said...

Dude, if I got offended or upset or started disliking people every time I was appalled at something, I'd be a bald fat man living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere surrounded by all animals and just one human.

Hey, wait ...

Seriously, I'm happy to have you say anything you like and I hope you'll keep on doing so. But at the same time, I do reserve the right to disagree with what you say.

Reading back over your two comments, I think I see what you were getting at -- that people have a choice about how to respond to bad things that happen to them, and at some point you have to make the choice to get on with things and do your best to make the most of it. Annie says that all the time, and in general I agree with it.

When I first read your first comment, though, the way I took it was "It's good that the storm blew that poor black trash out of town, they're better off and so is New Orleans." It's the same feeling I got when Barbara Bush said, standing in an Astrodome full of people who had been through Hell and were left with absolutely nothing, "This ... this is working out well for them." It's the tone more than the message. These people have lost what pittance they had and are relocated far away from the only home many of them have known, without resources, friends, or families. It's one thing to say "You got a raw deal, but it's time to get on with life and make the best of it" and another to say (which is how I read your first comment) "This is the best thing that ever happened, your life was crap before and now you have a chance, suck it up and quit bitching".

On top of that, I feel embarrassed by how slow things are moving in New Orleans. There's not even a plan for how to move forward there -- not from the local, state, or federal government. I look at the billions of dollars and the progress being made and talked about in tsunami-ravaged lands, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I wonder, what the hell is taking so long? CHINA got its people evacuated and infrastructure rebuilt when their coast got slammed by a typhoon in months, and we can't even get debris cleared away a year later? CHINA?!

So I feel embarrassed, powerless, and guilty that I couldn't do more, or wasn't there, or that we as a country have apparently decided that we're just going to write off one of the largest cities in the nation.

All of that probably went into my reaction to what you said, when it sounds like you were making an honest and heartfelt plea that things still suck in NO, but that the people most affected need to find a way to move forward anyway.

So, sorry for my quick trigger. I seem to have a strange capacity for taking things your family says the wrong way, I don't know why that is -- I totally misinterpreted an e-mail from Paul six or seven years ago, I've always felt bad about that.

Anyway, I hope you stick around and we hear from you again. I love you very much!


Denise said...

Adam -- I talked with a lady over the weekend who had relocated to Richmond from St. Bernard parish after Katrina because her husband's mother lived here. She said they lost everything -- their house, their belongings, clothes, everything. Two weeks after they got here, she found out she was pregnant. Instead of thinking, "Not another responsibility," she said they made a tough decision to look forward to a new beginning, figuratively and literally. This past weekend, there was quite a bit of "remember Katrina" coverage on TV. When I see that footage of the people in the Superdome for all that time with no water, food or decent surroundings, I am embarrassed and infuriated. No one, not if they're poor, black, white or rich, should have to go through that. And I look at all the finger pointing -- you did this, you didn't do that -- and I know that doesn't get New Orleans, Biloxi or Pass Christian cleaned up any faster. I cannot believe all the buck passing that's going on, a year later. Of all the states, Louisiana has unbelievably rich deposits of talent and ability, but I cannot figure out what's taking so darned long to rebuild the devastated areas. Alexandria, Monroe, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and even Lake Charles and Lafayette that were pounded by Rita are working furiously to get on track. Where I used to see tarps all over, this past visit, I saw roofs and businesses open.

The people who have relocated to other cities are doing well because of one word -- perspective. They had to keep going, and they did. I think if given the chance, most would return to Louisiana, but New Orleans has to get out of the blame game and lead the pack of rebuilders instead of whiners.

Jeff's right -- China rebuilt after the tsunami. San Francisco rebuilt after that horrible fire. The Japanese rebuilt after Pearl Harbor and England after the bombings, and cities in southeast Louisiana are quietly going about the business of living. I truly believe the young Louisianians are the hope for the future. I heard that the dean at Tulane gave a speech at the beginning of the semester this year. He said to the returning students that if it wasn't in their DNA to make a difference in the world, then they needed to go some place else because they could make a positive difference in New Orleans starting that minute. Right now, New Orleans is poised on the edge -- they can rebuild a great city once again out of the ashes or they can wallow in finger pointing. What do you think will happen?

And keep stating your opinions and your positions, even if you think you've offended someone because, at the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart, that's what makes this country great -- instructive discourse. The art of true dialogue is saying what you believe from your heart and then accepting what others say, thinking about it and then regrouping. And as far as Uncle Jeff being the quickest wit... well, I'd think of something witty to say, but I can't, but I'm pedaling as fast as I can!! Keep posting, kid! Keep posting!

Geopoet said...

This is where the written word is no substitute for dialogue. I understood exactly what Adam was saying, since I know his heart better than anyone I think, and also having spent weeks down there myself, in the worst hit areas. I couldn't agree with you more Adam on your main point. Keep writing.

As Adam was implying, many of the poorest people hit lived in the worst of environments for themselves and their children, with generation after generation afflicted with poverty, crime, drugs, poor education, teen pregnancy, you name it. The cycle continued because this is what they learned from their parents and friends, and for many, the government programs became the mainstay rather than a bridge to self sufficiency. Despite billions of dollars spent by the government, things never changed because many did not believe that things could get better, given their situation. Then Katrina happened and black and white, rich and poor, young and old got affected. By now, many know there is no going back. However, for many of the young and poor who have been displaced, being in a new environment in another state or place may actually help break the cycle of hopelessness and offer a better future than the one they were facing. For possibly the first time, some of the displaced are seeing people who genuinely care enough to help them get on their feet, but also people who demonsrate the virtues of self sufficiency, education and how to give something back to their community. Call it better role models, a chance to start over without the pull of naysayers or gangs, higher expectations or whatever, but many are most likely offered a better way. How this generation responds, as a group, will be quite interesting to see (although the response of some in Houston has been disappointing, to say the least). Nobody deserved Katrina, but also many deserve a better life than what they had.

Now for the bigger issue as to the frustration in why it's taking so long, why Mississippi is doing better, etc. I can tell you this, having driven much of the areas in NO, that the scale of devastation in New Orleans compared to anywhere else is beyond comparison. Mississippi was hit for a couple of miles along its shore and has no levees or marsh to cloud the decision on whether they should even rebuild, and can tackle things much easier given the narrow belt to get supplies and people into as well as the wealth of the casinos that are spurring much of the rebuilding. Impacted New Orleans, on the other hand, dwarfs the Miss coastline in terms of area, has huge uncertainties regarding the levees, coastal marsh protection, and flood plain floor level up to which they're supposed to rebuild. The geographic area is huge and not linear, making it more difficult for only a few people in a neighborhood to rebuild, wondering if anybody else will come and whether they're safe, so far from the main thoroughfares. Much of these uncertainties are federal in nature - FEMA, US Army Corps of Engineers, national insurance companies, etc.

Louisiana does have its leadership problems, to be sure. Nagin and Blanco should have had the guts to put a real plan together, mapping out what would be rebuilt, what would be a floodway or nonhabitable, and what would be industrial/commercial. He also does no service to anybody to be a racist, seeing everything in terms of black and white and telling people to move back with no clarity on any of the main issues Adam brought up regarding safety and assurances if another storm hits. Basically, he just wants everybody to rebuild where they were, with levees at same height, unknown flood elevation to build to, crime skyrocketing again, and no money from insurance companies for people to flush back into their moldy houses at old elevations. You have to question this intellectually, if not his motivation.

Also, in my experience as a businessperson, New Orleans was always considered a "closed" economy in terms of attracting outside corporations and investment, and much of it was due to corruption, croneyism and lack of vision. Such was the perception of many in commerce and industry, and this has come back to haunt New Orleans in a very real and tangible way, now that they're looking for capital to reinvest (e.g., as compared to Alabama and Mississippi coasts).

There are three parts to the aftermath of a catastrophe like this, the response of the people involved (victims of a tragedy), the response of the rest of us, and the response of governments. The most important and effective responses are in this same order, however. Notice the greatest amount of rebuilding is being done by the people themselves and others volunteering. They are not waiting on the government to help and not blaming anyone - they're just rollling up their sleeves and doing it board by board. Denise, we need more people like that dean over at Tulane you mentioned.

To get philosophic, perhaps we can ask ourselves what we would do if we were hit by an event out of our control? Would we sit in a dark trailer, day after day, waiting for a check because we're "due"? Would we jump right back where we were, with all the same problems and patterns of self destruction, pretending that everything's going to be better this time? Would we welcome the love and support of strangers and listen to advice? Would we look at these difficulties as nothing but opportunities to change and remake ourselves? This can apply to any catastrophic event; Janet and I have a friend who just found out she has cancer and is a young mom. I wonder how I'd respond.

I still can hear that old black lady in the Pete Maravich Center, sitting in her wheel chair with nothing but a diaper and an old dress, towel wrapped around her, saying that poem about "Heaven's Grocery Store" over and over again, like she did when she was a little girl. That poem speaks of childlike wonder and grace that comes from God's storeroom of love to assist us whenever we need it. She knew she was going someplace new, and she made a decision, in the midst of chaos, to let God lead her to the next adventure. It's a lesson I'll never forget.