Visiting New Orleans – Post Hurricane Katrina. The sliver by the river and the isle of denial were two of the colorful descriptions used to denote the approximate twenty percent of New Orleans that did not flood during Hurricane Katrina. Included in that twenty percent were the areas most visited by guests, the French Quarter and the Garden District.
In the summer of 2007, a person strolling through the historic Vieux Carre could easily forget that there had ever been a major hurricane two years earlier. Hotels were open, bars were serving, and music leaked out onto the streets. You could have beignets for breakfast, dine at Brennan’s for brunch, or eat at world famous Antoine’s, the country’s second oldest restaurant. If you could still move after partaking of the city’s culinary delights, there were the beautiful Greek revival style homes to be marveled at in the Garden District.
Yet all of this belied what had happened to the rest of the city, the eighty percent that did flood. When Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, it missed New Orleans by veering east, sparing the city a direct hit. All might have been fine had the levees not failed before the onslaught of a weak category three storm, which is what Hurricane Katrina had dwindled to just prior to landfall. The Army Corps of Engineers had assured New Orleans that the city had category three levee protection. It was wrong.
As the storm surge advanced, multiple breaches occurred, creating a nightmare for the citizens of New Orleans, many of whom drowned in their attics. The levees breached for two main reasons: one was caused by over topping and the other was the collapse of the wall itself. The water rose high enough in some places to actually spill over the top, thus eating away at the base of the floodwall and causing it to crumble. Far more disturbing was the fact that many of the floodwalls were improperly designed and erected to begin with and that is why they failed. The seventeenth street canal levee collapsed as a result of faulty design and implementation. In April of 2006, The Army Corps of Engineers admitted wrongdoing. The design flaws were known as early as 1986, when a study by the Corps itself reported that failures were likely.
Another problem was the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, known colloquially as “Mr. GO.” Constructed in the 1960’s as a shorter route for ships traveling from the Gulf of Mexico into New Orleans, it allowed salt-water intrusion into the marshland and was responsible for the destruction of some twenty thousand acres of swamp. In addition it created a “funnel” by which the storm surge could push in from lake Borgne, converging in an area where MRGO meets the Intracoastal Waterway between New Orleans east and the city’s lower ninth ward.
In late 2006, the Corps finally concluded that MRGO had to go and unveiled a plan to install an armored, earthen dam. As of the summer of 2007, the Corps was awaiting congressional approval and the approximate fifty million needed to implement the project. What happened to New Orleans was not a natural disaster but an avoidable man made catastrophe. It should serve as a wake up call to the rest of the country being safeguarded by the Corps’ levees.
In the summer of 2007, New Orleans was limping towards recovery and though the tourist attractions remained relatively unscathed, huge swaths of the city faced the monumental task of rebuilding. Roughly one half of the population had yet to return and those who did faced rising rental prices, a crippling housing shortage, and a failing infrastructure.
In the wake of a medical crisis, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety soared, pushing the suicide rate up by three hundred percent. 911 calls for psychologically related problems rose by fifteen percent and this with an extreme shortage of hospital beds. Taxing the system farther was the increase of strokes and stress related deaths. Visitors could still enjoy all New Orleans had to offer and were especially welcome as a much needed revenue source to assist in rebuilding but the citizens bore the brunt of a seemingly endless aftermath.