Katrina Plus Two Years: Two White People, Still Two Cities of New Orleans:
The lawyer and the small business owner are both white. They live in different areas of metro New Orleans. They had different experiences of Katrina. And they have had different experiences of its recovery, although some things remain the same.
The lawyer and her family evacuated to Florida before the storm and ended up living in an apartment in Baton Rouge for a few months, paid for by the law firm, before finally returning to their large Garden District home, with its stone patio and pool. They had to clear tree limbs and other detritus, but mostly everything at home was fine. Their first year was rough, as it was for everyone living in the ruins of the city.
The small business owner lived on the Metairie side of the 17th Street canal levee, the one that broke and destroyed the middle-class neighborhood of Lakeview. Still, her house flooded, the walls infested with mold, many of her possessions wrecked. Her New Orleans souvenir and decoration store in the Riverwalk was looted (although, poignantly, the looters took mostly t-shirts and other clothes, leaving a great deal of valuable merchandise). She ended up living with family in Lafayette for nearly six months before buying a house there. For the next year or so, she went back and forth to New Orleans weekly, cleaning her home, debating whether or not to sell it or repair it. She tried to run her business on the web, in smaller spaces in the smaller city.
Now, two years after the storm, the lawyer says, things are returning to a semblance of normalcy. The mail is regular. There's more restaurants and clubs. Her kids were going to go to private school anyway, so that hasn't changed. Friends of hers who had left, even taking jobs elsewhere, are starting to return. "They realized that Dallas, say, is not like New Orleans," she said. And that's hard to argue with. Especially when you're drinking a homemade mojito lounging on a lawn chair next to a slate-stepped swimming pool.
A couple of blocks near her New Orleans home, the small business owner pointed out, is the fissure at the bottom of the levee on her side of the canal. "It looks like the San Andreas Fault," she said. The canal walls won't hold in another storm, the Army Corps of Engineers knows. Erosion like what the small business owner pointed out is taking care of any other semblance of security, and assurances by the Corps that that particular weakness is no problem don't really alleviate the feeling that more water may flood the streets again.
You can't understand that anxiety when a storm makes its way into the Gulf of Mexico, she said, when a hurricane of any sort appears in the tropics. This was before Dean. Essentially, the people of New Orleans, of the Gulf Coast, are suffering the kind of post-traumatic stress associated with soldiers. Instead of hearing bombs, they hear wind. And it doesn't help that the nation doesn't seem to want to help ease the suffering.
But the small business owner is easing herself back into her now cleaned and restored ranch home. She is making tentative steps to restoring her old life as best as she can. She's lived in New Orleans her entire life. Hell, her 95-year old mother lived there her whole life until Katrina put her in a California assisted-living home, and she wants to return.
People yearn to come back to New Orleans. Like a lover that's betrayed them, they ache for the city's embrace even though they know the wounds will never heal.