Fucked New Orleans: A Sixth Anniversary Post:
When you hear idiots who aren't drowning in the Catskills or watching their towns get washed away in Vermont debate over whether or not government officials and the media overreacted to Hurricane Irene, you have to wonder if they would have been happier if a couple of thousand people had died and lower Manhattan had become Katrina-ville. Of course it was overstated. Of course they screamed and called it "ferocious" when it turned out to not be that bad. How else do you get heard over the cacophony of bullshit that passes for information these days? How else do you get through to the numbskulls who think that something that might kill them is just an opportunity to record a sub-Jackass fail video?
As bad as Irene's effects continue to be, you could detect the disappointment in the news anchors and reporters as they realized that it's only podunk towns in the mountains and not New York City that'd be fucked up (except for Staten Island, but that never counts as real NYC), that they wouldn't have the opportunity to ride boats through Ground Zero so close to the anniversary of 9/11, that the story wouldn't have the synchronized beauty of wreaking havoc on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
For, yes, yes, it is that time of year, the end of August, and fewer and fewer people are recognizing it, when we remember that six years ago, Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the natural disaster on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain and Mississippi, the human-made disaster of New Orleans. And, despite most outward appearances, still, after all this time, after mayors and governors and presidents Democratic and Republican, after celebrities moved there to help, after the cultural scene is more vibrant than perhaps ever, New Orleans is still, still so very, very fucked.
About six weeks ago, the Rude Pundit spent a lovely couple of days in New Orleans, drinking hard, eating hard, roaming the streets, staying in an extra lovely inn in the Bywater with an even more lovely partner, the romance of the place washing over us as we existed for that short period in the reconstructed blocks and mostly untouched spaces of the dark and sticky and magical city.
The thing about the Bywater, which, if you head west, is next to the Fauborg, which is next to the French Quarter, is that if you head east and jump a canal, you are in the Lower Ninth Ward. It's that close to the revived places. And when the Rude Pundit visited the Lower Ninth back in December of 2010, he saw this:
That's a dead dog in the middle of what was once a street lined with houses. It was a big dog, and it had been there a while: the skin was decaying, and, on the dog's head, it was pulled tight, revealing the teeth and skull. You got that? In the middle of a street, in the middle of a major city, less than a half mile from the tourist areas, no one gave a fuck about moving the goddamned dog's corpse. And those fields of weeds covered the foundations and remnants of houses. Some day, someone is going to excavate that area and wonder what civilization abandoned it.
But New Orleans isn't fucked because it has left its poor neighborhoods to go fallow (even if some FEMA money was just secured to possibly help). No, it's fucked because the very levees that failed are still pieces of shit. Yep, on a five point Roman numeral scale, with V the best and I the worst, the supposedly more secure levees got a II. And that's from the Army Corps of Engineers using its own scale, the same people who thought they were fine in the first place.
You add to that the corruption and incompetence that has gone into building a new hydraulic pump system, not to mention rising sea levels (which the Corps knows it needs to take into account and will happen no matter how much climate change deniers say it won't), and, no matter how much spackle they put on the holes to make it pretty for the tourists and the hipsters, no matter how much daily life seems "normal," unless the government is willing to truly commit in a way that goes beyond enriching subcontractors, yes, New Orleans will be fucked.
(Note: The Rude Pundit's Almanack contains a bunch of pictures from that December trip.)