Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"I lost everything in the storm."

Almost seven years ago I wrote this poem as my reaction to Hurricane Katrina. I had visited New Orleans once, and had vague plans to go back, but no thought of living there. Now I have been here about two and a half years. When I arrived I was amazed to discover that the city had still not recovered from Katrina. I have observed:
  • Many dilapidated houses, schools, churches, stores, other buildings, and empty lots. I never knew before that a bare concrete slab could be such a chilling sight.
  • Houses that have "someone died in here" painted on the front door.
  • Rental listings which advertise the fact that the building "never flooded." My house itself is in an area that never flooded. But all the same there's an abandoned house on the corner of our street. I don't know what happened to the owners, or why they left most of their belongings behind, even the air conditioner in the window.
  • There is still no Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV, RMV, whatever you call it) office in New Orleans itself.
  • I saw a woman at a yard sale looking at the pots and pans. She said, "I lost all my stuff in Katrina." This was five years later.
  • People date everything in terms of the storm. "I saw that movie before Katrina." "I've been to that restaurant, that was after Katrina."
  • I know people who only got to move back into their houses (or into a permanent home) since I've been here. I've heard about other people who are still waiting.
  • Just a couple months after I arrived here, I went to church one Sunday morning. There had been heavy rains and the streets around the church were flooded up to my knees. I got inside, where it was dry, and those of us who had braved the waters stood  there looking out at it all. One person said, "As long as I don't see any bodies floating by, I'm happy."
What I have never observed is any mention in the media of how many people died in Katrina. No mention of it at the time and no mention of it in the news coverage of the fifth anniversary.  I did a little research and came up with this photo, which appears to be dated August 29, 2010:

The caption says:
Three mausoleums are seen at the New Orleans Katrina Memorial Park. A total of six mausoleums at the memorial hold the remains of 80 hurricane victims who were either unidentified or unclaimed years after the 2005 storm.
I also came across this information from the New Orleans Coroner's Office:
The previous Coroner’s Office was located at 2700 Tulane. It was destroyed by the flooding from Hurricane Katrina. The Coroner’s Office operated out of the temporary morgue facilities that were initially established by the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) in St. Gabriel, LA and was later moved to a new federal facility that was built in Carville, LA. From December 1, 2005 until March 2006 there was no facility to do New Orleans autopsies. In March 2006, thanks to assistance from FEMA, the office was officially relocated to its present location at 2612 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., New Orleans, LA.

The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, working with DMORT and the Louisiana State Department of Health and Hospitals, handled more than 1,400 fatalities while occupying the temporary disaster facilities. Of these 1400 fatalities, more than 1,000 were autopsied. This is the most autopsies ever performed anywhere, in any disaster. Since moving to the new facility in New Orleans and after DMORT closed their operations, additional human remains have been, and still are, being recovered, examined, and identified by this Office.
And of course, it is "the storm."

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