As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I traveled to New Orleans, LA this past weekend for a wedding. We were fortunate enough to be able to stay an extra day and take a tour of the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina (the cake with icing) and Rita (the cherry on top), not because we’re sadists, but because the mass media is comprised of monkeys who fling half-truths and we wanted to see it for ourselves.
An aside: New Orleans is an amazing place, unique in its current form and in its history. I encourage anyone who’s traveling there to not only experience the mango daiquiris on Bourbon Street but also take in some of the history. We also took a cemetery walking tour, which was possibly the best $15 I’ve spent in a long time. We used Historic New Orleans Walking Tours, Inc., and our guide, Bob, kicked ass.
The photos below are from our tour, and we saw most everything from the tour bus, so please forgive the glare or poor angles characteristic of a few of the shots. To the photos!
Above is one of the prisons evacuated once the City started to flood. I learned that the City didn’t flood until a few days after the storm, once the canal walls broke – more on this later. Prisoners were loaded on buses haphazardly and distributed throughout the City. Since records were destroyed, many prisoners’ crimes couldn’t be identified, and many were released. Some even escaped. The chaos that followed left law and order in the New Orleans incomplete, to put it kindly. Police stations turned into forts following the flooding, and the City is still short a few hundred police officers. The system has still no recovered, and the phrase “misdemeanor murder” is often being used to describe the situation. Yikes.
New construction. I don’t know what’s being built on this site but any building is welcome. This site is also relatively close to downtown and the French Quarter, which I learned incidentally, looks neither French or Spanish, but Haitian, as Haitians built it.
One of the many above ground cemeteries in New Orleans. These were built above ground since most of the City sits below sea level (except for the French Quarter, business district, and few small neighborhoods). Hence, the flooding. It’s all connected people! We didn’t take a tour of this cemetery but most are similar in structure. One thing I didn’t know is that the tombs are reused, and can be reused as frequently as once a year. The tombs turn into ovens sitting under the southern sun all day long and literally cook the bodies. After one year all that’s left is a pile of bone dust. It’s pushed to the back of the tomb and another body is placed in. Of course, most tombs are only used by one family, so (hopefully) deaths aren’t so common in a particular family that the tomb is being used that often. The grave stones on the tombs catalog everyone who has ever been put to rest in it, and some have dates spanning over 100 years.
One of the many new homes going up in New Orleans. To keep costs down so as to attract residents, homes of this style are built through modular construction. I believe this home was built in an area that flooded but not too significantly. I love the sign on the pole.
Sigh. One of thousands of homes still standing that’s yet to be rebuilt or demolished since the hurricanes. The markings indicate that the house has been searched and what was found, which I believe in this case was two dead bodies. This particular house was searched more than once. Note there are three markings, one below the attic window and two on the front of the house, in between the doors.
So, I wonder if this bar sells larger than average beers and if those beers can be taken out of the establishment.
Above is a pumping station. This type of facility pumps water out of underground drainage pipes that collect rain water throughout New Orleans. The water is pumped into canals (see below) and the canals are drained into the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and into the Mississippi River itself. These bodies of water then drain into the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain and other natural bodies of water in the area. It was these canals that broke and led to the flooding of the city, a few full days after the storm. In fact, only one levee didn’t hold up.
Because of poor construction, the walls of the canals that drain excess water from the City couldn’t handle the amount of water that was put into them. If you look at the left wall in the picture above, I’ve marked with a red circle the delineation between the old wall (to the left) and the new wall (to the right). On some of these canals, multiple hundred-foot sections broke open, releasing millions of gallons of water a minute into neighborhoods.
This picture shows another rebuilt wall, and how close houses are to the walls. The proximity of these homes to the wall is not unique. Also, because of cheap construction, many of these homes sat, unconnected, on pilings. When the water poured into the neighborhood, some houses were just swept away, in their entirety.
Above is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a.k.a. MR. GO. It doubles as a shipping channel and has been the source of most of the flooding that’s occurred in New Orleans over the decade. The citizens of the area have finally persuaded the federal government to shut it down, and it should be closed in the next few years. The reason MR. GO has been such a problem is that big storms create surges off of the channels and lakes in the area. MR. GO happens to be the biggest of these channels, and when the surges happen, the entire drainage system of the City stops working, or even moves backwards. The Lower Ninth Ward, made famous because of the extreme damage it sustained after the hurricanes, is bordered by MR. GO and one of the drainage canals shown earlier. The neighborhood took on a 30-foot surge of water from one side during Katrina and a million gallons of water a minute from a broken canal from the other side. I think water levels in the Lower Ninth Ward topped 20 feet.
A PGA quality golf course that still lies in ruin. Only the concrete path is new, and was built to give people in the neighborhood behind from where the shot was taken a place to walk.
The photo above shows more homes still untouched since the flooding. The red circle highlights a picnic table that still rests on the roof of one of the houses.
Rebirth. Above are two of 80 homes built in the Upper Ninth Ward. This rebuilding effort was led by musician’s Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, and is aptly named Musician’s Row. Musicians make up part of the tremendous character of this City, and many lower and moderate income musicians were displaced during the flooding. Musician’s Row has helped bring some of them back and it spurring more development in the area. The Upper Ninth Ward is adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, but sits on considerably higher ground (though it is still below sea level). Notice these houses are built on stilts a few feet off the ground. We saw some that were built on stilts 17 to 20 feet above ground. Many people in the City think growth in this part of New Orleans should happen only in the Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood, and that the Lower Ninth Ward should be abandoned because of its precarious positioning between two canals.
Unfortunately I was only able to touch on some of the highlights, but as I said earlier, I encourage you to get down to New Orleans and see it for yourself. All in all, the tour was extremely enlightening and at times depressing. We heard stories of people seeing a shark attack a wild boar while sitting on their roofs and of a man committing suicide after selling his $1.5 million dollar house for $250,000. Take your money and help the City become vibrant again and if someone tells you it shouldn’t be rebuilt, tell them to shut up and support a government that will do things right. Tell them if the canals weren’t half-assed, the walls wouldn’t have failed; instead of concrete, peat moss was used for part of the construction. New Orleans holds a unique place in the history of the United States and should not be ignored, or left for dead.