I didn’t intend to take the month of August off from 13th Ward Rambling. I wish it were because I took a vacation, but life got in the way. I’m back, whether I’m better than ever is up to you. Please be charitable as I resume my regular publishing schedule: every other Wednesday at 11 AM sharp.
The fifteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood landed on a Saturday this year. It was overshadowed by two storms. One that was powerful, Hurricane Laura, and one that fizzled, Tropical Storm Marco. I, for one, am glad that Marco flopped like the 2016 Rubio for President campaign.
Laura was a different matter altogether. It made landfall as a powerful category-4 storm that wreaked havoc in Acadiana and along the Louisiana-Texas border. It arrived with a bang in Cameron Parish, then moved quickly north leaving thousands homeless. Since the impacted areas are deep red politically, they were treated to a visit from the Impeached Insult Comedian who dispensed some dubious wisdom:
There’s no real way of understanding that word salad. We’ll pour some dressing on it and move on.
Many of those who fled Laura came to New Orleans seeking shelter from the storm. We’re always glad to help but it triggered memories of August 29, 2005. They’re always there; lurking in the background.
Katrina was the defining moment of my life. Thinking of the storm, the flood, and years of rebuilding defines the phrase mixed emotions. I’m not going to quote the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities because you should already know them. But they fit. For good or ill, I had new experiences and met people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It also began my life as an internet writer, blogger, whatever you want to call it. I write for the Bayou Brief because of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. I first met our publisher, Lamar White Jr, when he appeared on my politics panel at Rising Tide 4. All of this evokes the venerable saying, “you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.” Life is funny that way.
My own Katrina story is a typical and somewhat undramatic one. I’ve told it so often that I know it by heart. Dr. A and I had never evacuated for a storm before and never expected to be away from home for six weeks. We bounced around between the houses of friends and family in Bossier City, Dallas, and Baton Rouge. I’ve written about the most dramatic thing that happened to us, tracking down our friend Michel in Dallas. The story of his family’s exile from New Orleans was dramatic indeed.
In the early days of our Katrina exile, we were greeted with warmth and compassion. By the time we landed in Baton Rouge, compassion fatigue had set in. I learned to not tell people that we were from New Orleans. The last time I did, a local said: “When are you leaving?”
Before returning home for good, we snuck into the city to check on our house. I first wrote about it in an email to friends, family, and the neighborhood association of which I was then president. It eventually landed at my other home on the internet, First Draft. New Orleans remained closed until Hurricane Rita passed. Rita, of course, was the wicked big sister of Hurricane Laura. It pioneered Laura’s path and was for Southwestern Louisiana what Katrina was for the New Orleans area and Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In writing about the storm that changed my life, it’s impossible to separate the day it made landfall from the years following 8/29/2005. My wife and I were already civic activists, but we became more deeply involved despite our relative good fortune. Our house didn’t flood but we had $20,000 worth of damage, which our insurance company paid for. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the most traumatic thing for us was removing rotten food from our refrigerator. It was the first time I ever saw maggots. I hope to never see them again. We learned our lesson and empty our fridge whenever we evacuate for a storm. But we were much luckier than those who lost their homes and were forced to live in FEMA trailers. That’s why I have a lingering case of survivor’s guilt.
I attended many “rebuilding meetings.” I saw then Mayor C Ray Nagin primp in front of a mirror and several City Council members show up drunk. I’ll omit the names to protect the guilty. Those in the know will know who I’m talking about. They’re long out of office so there’s no point to outing them many years later. Besides, who could blame them? Those were stressful times.
The political impact of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent Federal Flood was swift and furious. The Bush administration went to war with then Governor Kathleen Blanco. Her sin was being a Democrat; so much for the notion that “polarization” began with the Trump regime. The Bushies fought our Governor every step of the way; seeking to pin the blame for the disaster on the Blanco administration. It’s what happens when you initially put a hatchet man like Karl Rove in charge of hurricane recovery. Heckuva job, W.
The Blanco-Bush-Rove face-off ultimately led to an erosion of her once sky-high popularity and the Governor’s decision not to seek re-election in 2007. Her replacement, Bobby Jindal, was as big a disaster for the Gret Stet of Louisiana as any of the storms we’ve experienced since 2005. As a pundit, I always called him PBJ. He was easily the most indigestible PBJ ever.
There were some Katrinaversary remembrances in the New Orleans metro area this year, but nothing like the circus staged upon the 10th anniversary in 2015. I wrote several scathing pieces about K-10 for First Draft. The title of one of them is self-explanatory, Killer Kitsch: The Hurricane Katrina Snowglobe. That’s right, people were hawking gee-gaws, doodads, and other tacky and tasteless items in “celebration” of our “resilience.” It got so bad that my friend Laura Bergerol came up with this rebuttal to the city-backed hype:
It’s time for a humble brag. My other major K-10 piece was one of the most read things I’ve written in my time as an internet writer, Katrinaversary Blues: Of Resilience Tours, Carpetbloggers, & Disaster Tourists. I stand by the opening paragraph:
“The hype behind the 10th anniversary of Katrina and the subsequent flood reminds me of a flock of turkey buzzards circling the city in search of carrion. I, for one, have no desire to be roadkill and plan to hide under the bed on Saturday 8/29. There are too many people with too many agendas who have seized that day, transforming it into a metaphor. All most of us have ever wanted is to get back to what passes for normality in New Orleans. I’d even take Gamaliel-style “normalcy” once I stop cringing…”
Returning to normal sounds good in these disaster laden times as well.
My best wishes to everyone impacted by Hurricane Laura. It’s a going to be a long hard slog until you regain a semblance of normality. It’s a goal shared by all Americans as we struggle with the pandemic and the grotesque incompetence of the Trump regime that made it infinitely worse. It’s time for them to go. Make it so, America, make it so.
Finally, let’s circle back to the Katrinaversary. Right before the storm, I bought a copy of Rodney Crowell’s then new album, The Outsider. It became the soundtrack of Dr. A and my Katrina exile. The last word goes to Rodney and Emmylou Harris with a brilliant cover of a Bob Dylan song: