New Orleans and Iraq
‘ This is a posting written by a native New Orleanian and Middle East History professor, Nabil Al-Tikriti:
New Orleans is in awful shape, and it frankly resembles Dhaka, Bangladesh after a cyclone (looting, refugees stranded on highway bridges, air rescues, flooded housing, lack of social order). Much of the damage happened after the hurricane had long passed. The 17th Street Canal levee opened up a 300 ft long breach, and Lake Pontchartrain water is streaming into Lakeview, Mid-City, and points beyond. That breach appears to have been gradually filling the city up with water all day today. The other breach, in the Lower Ninth Ward, appears to have opened up somewhere in the Industrial Canal near Holy Cross, and has completely flooded the Lower Ninth (east of the Industrial Canal) and Arabi. Chalmette was flooded throughout during the hurricane itself, and there were reports that Bywater, Kenner, NO East, Metairie between I-10 and the Lake all got flooded during the storm itself. However, a lot of this flooding news has since been surpassed after the huge breach on the 17th St. Canal. Just in the last hour another report predicted more breaches to come. These are causing flooding up to rooftops, which may mean the end of entire neighborhoods full of old wooden houses.
For those New Orleanian readers, detailed news about various neighborhoods can be obtained at these two websites that I’ve found most helpful: WWLTV— and Nola. Each of these has “neighborhood forums” with hundreds of postings about various areas in the region. That’s where the real news is, and that’s also where the real rumors are flying. Nola.com also has a “breaking news” section which is frequently updated.
Here are some situations, and they are due for change, revision, and correction. Slidell and the MS Gulf Coast (Ocean Springs, Gulfport, Biloxi) seem to have been completely obliterated. Mandeville, St. John’s Parish, St. Charles Parish, West Bank, and Grand Isle seem to have been largely spared. Mobile got hit, but not nearly as badly as Mississippi and Louisiana.
I’m personally quite worried about all those wonderful crunchies, service staff, 9th Ward marching band members, drinking buddies, and ragamuffins from Leo’s, Mimi’s, Frenchman St, the John etc. I’m worried that some of those lovely folks were naive, young, or poor enough to stick it out and get caught in something awful. Time will tell, although I’ll always wonder about folks I’ll never see again who just happened to move away, or disappeared without anyone knowing why or how.
Other points of interest in New Orleans: Entergy warns that there may be no electricity for some for a month. Local officials don’t want evacuees (refugees?) returning for another week. Even if they wanted to come back, it’d be difficult as the only way in or out at the moment seems to be the GNO Mississippi River Bridge. Slidell I-10 twin spans looks like the Florida I-10 bridge last year. No news about I-10 over the spillway, and there was a rumor that the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was (miraculously) intact.
The Southern Yacht Club has burned down, surreally on an island surrounded completely by water with wrecked boats all around it. The Fair Grounds lost half of its grandstands roof. CBD windows were all blown out, along with building panels. The Superdome roof coating was half peeled off, with a couple of holes opened up in it (that must have been an awful place to wait the storm, without air conditioning and herded into the stands).
The looting has begun. There were crowds swarming over Roberts at Elysian Fields and St. Claude, and legions more at the brand new Wall Mart on Tchoupitoulas (maybe they were all Magazine St. small business owners, but that’s a local joke). I remember a couple of years back when righteous folks in the US kept asking me how Iraqis could possibly loot their own facilities. Well, perhaps some might now wonder how Americans can possibly loot their own facilities — except that somehow it’s not surprising at all when order completely breaks down. Even cops are doing it, but then that’s a specifically New Orleans touch, if you know what I mean.
It sure is a good thing the Louisiana National Guard is there (in Iraq) to maintain order. A few months back, 6 boys from Houma — all members of Louisiana’s National Guard — died when their Bradley Armored Vehicle hit a massive IED and flipped over into a canal not unlike the bayous whence they hailed (a nasty corpse recovery detail if ever there was one). Yesterday their own town was nearly crushed by Katrina, and were they around to help? Wouldn’t their unit be of use as New Orleans gradually descends into civil chaos? What about strengthening levees? Cutting trees off of the roads? Repairing bridges? We need our guard HERE, NOW — not killing and getting killed halfway around the world.
Of course, we’re all ever proud of our Great Leader’s decision to end his precious vacation early to “take command” over relief efforts. That’s reassuring, that is. Considering the bankruptcy of the Federal Government (bled dry by — Iraq and the tax cuts), and the fact that our military response units are away (in Iraq), he’s got nothing to play with. Yet play he must. We’re a “red” state, and it’s put up or shut up time, W.
Since we’re on the topic of W and his contributions to local developments, let’s ask a couple of further questions. Is global warming really just a figment of liberals’ imagination? Are the Kyoto Accords — designed to slow global warming by slowing emissions — really such a ridiculous idea? After last year’s and this year’s (not yet finished!) hurricane seasons, folks from the Gulf Coast had better ask themselves again about the significance of global warming — that’s what they’ve just lost their houses to. Katrina was not just any hurricane, it set records — and the warm water temperature of the Gulf fed the monster. The proliferation of hurricanes last year and this year? Same cause. DC policy does matter. Get used to it.
Another policy issue — locals have heard in recent months that Southern Louisiana is literally sinking into the Gulf, due to the levee system which directs Mississippi river silt further out into the Gulf. Imagine a coastline finger that grow ever longer, but thinner and lower. That’s meant to be the buffer region between New Orleans and the Gulf — and New Orleans is sinking too. Add that to global warming’s rising of ocean levels, and you can see where New Orleans is ultimately headed — underwater. Perhaps that day has arrived. Just before the collapse of the Howard Dean campaign last year, the local contingent was negotiating a statement in support of Louisiana coastal restoration as a campaign plank. Dean’s campaign collapsed, and the issue never re-surfaced.
I heard estimates that it would cost something like 16 billion USD to initiate a credible coastal restoration program, as it involves redesigning the whole levee system and river routings throughout Southeast Louisiana. One could rightfully ask whether it’s worth so much funding, which would obviously have to be federal-backed due to its scale. It’s even more than Boston’s “Big Dig”, which I think cost just over 10 billion USD when all was said and done (and it leaks!). We’ve all sat around the past decade and watched Boston suck down all those tax dollars without so much as a peep of complaint. However, it’s our turn now America — quoting the slogan that REALLY built this country, namely “where’s mine”? While we’re at it, let’s compare the figure to another amount — it costs 4 billion USD every week to keep US troops in Iraq. So, which would you prefer? A month more in Iraq? Or saving New Orleans? For me, the choice is easy — which would you prefer?
Perhaps the time has come to organize a “Getting Gay With Kids” choirs to “save the swamp” [South Park reference, I recommend it], because Southeastern Louisiana needs its swamps and coastal lands restored. It’ll take years, but it needs to be started.
Finally, Mayor Ray Nagin, Senator Mary Landrieu, and Governor Kathleen Blanco all seem to be doing well enough. Nagin’s doing his best “every man” imitation, and actually seems to be more worried about the city than his own image. Ditto Blanco — sensible, sensitive, involved, and quite the grizzled matron. Landrieu seemed like a scared kitten on TV, but she’s still young. Meanwhile, Senator David Vitter was quoted saying something to the effect that while he feels pain for everyone’s losses, he was relieved to find his own house in Old Metairie is still in good shape. Perhaps that was a bit too honest on his part.
New Orleans is never going to be the same. Are there any bright spots? Well, even they don’t seem so bright: contractor jobs as far as the eye can see, jobs for native-born architects, federal funding about to wash over NO’s corrupt patronage system, real estate prices to plummet, fewer tourists — at least in the short term. New Orleans will emerge out of this smaller, poorer, and newer (with awful housing). The party continues, but without the beautiful props. ‘