An Update and Call for Help
I returned to my parents' home in Slidell, LA the weekend before Halloween, so it's been a few weeks now. Life is still turned upside down for ALL of us here in the Katrina-affected area. One entire half of this city (where I grew up and have spent the vast majority of my 25 years) is completely gone. Wiped out, no longer there. You see shells of buildings and stores that used to remain, but little else. The one half of Slidell that is still here (the northern half, where we live) used to have about 15-25,000 people total. We now have squeezed into our half almost ALL of the people from the south side of town (another 20,000+) plus many people from St. Bernard Parish (at least another 10-15,000), a neighboring parish south of here that took even more damage than we did. Please just imagine what that can do to a city when you at least triple your population in a small section of town. It is nearly impossible to drive anywhere because of traffic, places that once took 5 minutes to drive to now take 30-45 minutes, places that once took 10 minutes can now take upwards of an hour to an hour and a half. Many of our stores, restaurants and businesses are still not open; those that are open are only open about 6 hours a day. All of this is in addition to the area looking like a war zone, literally. It's unbelievable and it's horrible.
I am so disappointed with the media and the blogs for dropping the Katrina aftermath story like a hot potato. (CNN has been doing some attempts at keeping the story alive, especially on Anderson Cooper's show, but it is still far too little.) Because people haven't been hearing about us in the news all that much, they assume that everything is totally back to normal and everything is okay here.
It is NOT.
My parents came out lucky and only need a new roof after the storm, but we are still battling with the insurance company and the contractor to get it. As it stands now, we have to hold our breath any time it rains and hope that the thin garbage bags covering the big HOLE on our roof will keep water from getting in and causing more damage.
I lost my source of income when Katrina hit, yet I still have bills to pay. I am still battling with FEMA for the help that I am due (and yes, I believe I am DUE that help after what we've all been through) and trying to get through weeks of red tape just to get a little help. As far as my apartment in New Orleans, that I need starting in January because law school will resume, I could no longer afford it and have had to sublease it.
And we were lucky compared to many others. Just imagine what they're going through if my parents and I are having to deal with all this crap and we had little property damage.
This is all despicable. While the rest of the country forgets about us and politicians want to desert us and never rebuild the area, we are all trying desperately to get on with our lives and it isn't working. While the rest of the country seems concerned about the holidays coming up, most of us here can't even stomach the idea of celebrating any kind of holiday because of what we've been through and what we STILL go through-- not to mention whether any of us will have any money whatsoever left to spend on any holidays.
Liberal politicians have forgotten about us, conservative politicians never gave a damn about us in the first place, and religious-right leaders are spreading the word that we got what we deserved for being sinners. Now we also have "scientists" (who seem to work with or for the conservative politicians) saying that we should not rebuild at all, that we should just pick up and move and leave our lives behind, that one of the nation's greatest cities should be abandoned and never rebuilt, because, "hey, you might get another hurricane and you're below sea level-- how horrible!!!". It's horrible and immoral to suggest something like that and to put us through that after what we've been through. And no one is suggesting that people move out of California (earthquakes), Florida (many, many more hurricanes than us), the Midwest (tornadoes), or the northeast (blizzards). Why are we being singled out and totally and completely abandoned?
Yesterday our local newspaper had an amazing editorial that sums up much of our feelings, and I will post much of it here:
The federal government wrapped levees around greater New Orleans so that the rest of the country could share in our bounty.
Americans wanted the oil and gas that flow freely off our shores. They longed for the oysters and shrimp and flaky Gulf fish that live in abundance in our waters. They wanted to ship corn and soybeans and beets down the Mississippi and through our ports. They wanted coffee and steel to flow north through the mouth of the river and into the heartland.
So the federal government built levees and convinced us that we were safe.
The levees, we were told, could stand up to a Category 3 hurricane.
By the time Katrina surged into New Orleans, it had weakened to Category 3. Yet our levee system wasn't as strong as the Army Corps of Engineers said it was. Barely anchored in mushy soil, the floodwalls gave way.
Our homes and businesses were swamped. Hundreds of our neighbors died.
Now, this metro area is drying off and digging out. Life is going forward. Our heart is beating.
But we need the federal government -- we need our Congress -- to fulfill the promises made to us in the past. We need to be safe. We need to be able to go about our business feeding and fueling the rest of the nation. We need better protection next hurricane season than we had this year. Going forward, we need protection from the fiercest storms, the Category 5 storms that are out there waiting to strike.
Some voices in Washington are arguing against us. We were foolish, they say. We settled in a place that is lower than the sea. We should have expected to drown.
As if choosing to live in one of the nation's great cities amounted to a death wish. As if living in San Francisco or Miami or Boston is any more logical.
The federal government decided long ago to try to tame the river and the swampy land spreading out from it. The country needed this waterlogged land of ours to prosper, so that the nation could prosper even more.
Some people in Washington don't seem to remember that. They act as if we are a burden. They act as if we wore our skirts too short and invited trouble.
We can't put up with that. We have to stand up for ourselves. Whether you are back at home or still in exile waiting to return, let Congress know that this metro area must be made safe from future storms. Call and write the leaders who are deciding our fate. Get your family and friends in other states to do the same. Start with members of the Environment and Public Works and Appropriations committees in the Senate, and Transportation and Appropriations in the House. Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina.
Remind them that this is a singular American city and that this nation still needs what we can give it.
One thing I disagree with is its emphasis solely on New Orleans; while I desperately want help for New Orleans, there are so many other places that also need it (like my home town). The storm did not only hit New Orleans; it left a path of destruction stretching from Hammond, LA (45 minutes west of here) all the way to the Mississippi/ Alabama state line.
But if you are reading this blog and have some compassion left for those of us left behind in Katrina's wake, I beg of you to write your politicians and demand that they give us answers and help (the local paper has a list of important people to write to here). Many of us here are writing or will write to politicians, but I don't believe our voices matter to them anymore; we are subhumans and we don't count to the people in Washington, D.C. any longer.
Perhaps those of you in the rest of the country would be listened to more. Please help if you can-- we're not asking for money or even much of your time, but instead I hope that people outside the Katrina-affected area will do something that we have a duty and responsibility to do as Americans anyway: write your politicians and tell them how you feel.
Remember, politicians work for us, WE are paying their salary, and ultimately they have to answer to us. It's probably the case that precious few politicians care about us down here because at the moment we're all too damn poor to pay much of their salaries, but the rest of the country can pay them and they'd listen to all of you more.