A National Disgrace
Why the Flooding, Immiseration, and Evacuation
of New Orleans (67% African-American) Was Made to Happen
By Don Paul
"This doesn't feel like modern times"
We've seen the scenes. Elderly hospital-patients quivering on cots in parking-lots, expecting helicopters that fail to come. Younger survivors, unable to walk, towed in wagons and carried in baskets by others knee-deep to waist-deep in streams over streets. Gas-mains burning through Lake Pontchartrain's and the Mississippi River's water, Families clinging to rooftops and waving blankets for attention as other people's chairs float past. Shirtless children scrambling for food throughout an otherwise abandoned city.
And we've seen the crowds waiting: waiting inside and outside stadiums: waiting with plastic-bags full of clothes: waiting without food or water: waiting for days and nights of hunger, dehydration, shock and desperation: waiting with disbelief that they're being treated so meanly in a land of plenty: waiting finally with cries and chants of "Help us! Help us!" ... We've seen on TV and in newspapers the Black and Brown faces--Black and Brown faces an overwhelming majority--of poor people stranded in New Orleans over the five days since Hurricane Katrina howled toward them and its landfall in the United States, would-be "refugees" left there over the four days since levees beside the city broke.
And the poor people and the their helpless, stranded misery look like ravaged populations
of Darfur. They look like people abandoned and waiting after "natural disasters" in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and amid evacuations Rwanda and famines in Ethiopia.
A woman interviewed outside one flank of New Orleans' Superdome. Her dark hair is matted to her forehead. She stares hard into the TV camera. She seems to wish that someone or something will give her traumatized perplexity a good answer for what's going on. "I don't know," she says. "This doesn't feel like modern times."
"It appears that the money has been moved in
the President's budget to handle Homeland Security and the war in Iraq"
The levees that were breached by the 18-to-22-foot storm-surge to Lake Pontchartrain which followed Katrina's landfall might have stood had improvements to them not been defunded by the U. S. Government over the past three years.
In 1995, flooding from a sub-hurricane level storm killed six in New Orleans, prompting the U. S. Government to begin the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA). Over the seven years the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers spent more than $300 million to shore up the levees whose humps snake round the below-sea level "bowl" of New Orleans and protect the city from flooding. Spending on SELA after 2002, however, was sharply reduced, coincident with the
U.S./British invasion of Iraq and further expansion of the Department of Homeland Security.
In June of 2004, Walter Maestri, the emergency-management chief for Jefferson Parish (New Orleans) told the Times-Picayune newspaper: "It appears that the money has been moved in the President's budget to handle Homeland Security and the war in Iraq, ... Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
Louisiana's 2004 hurricane season 'was the worst in decades.' Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News writes. 'In spite of that,' Bunch continues, 'the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.'
Among the most pressing projects was work on the levee next to New Orleans' 17th Street Canal, site of the largest and most destructive breach by Lake Pontchartrain on Monday, August 29; this urgent project was quit in July 2005, one month before Katrina struck, due to lack of funds .
Increasing and Insuring Destruction and Death
' "A hurricane is a classic act of nature, an act of God. You can't stop it. What we can do
and what we have done is get ourselves to the utmost level of preparedness." '
Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security, in the
British/American Financial Times, 9/2/05
"They haven't done nuttin'!"
--Malik Rahim, former Black Panther and current Green Party candidate for Mayor of
New Orleans, born and raised in that city, talking over the phone on 9/2/05.
What can explain the murderous neglect that remains obvious in New Orleans today, Friday, September 2, 2005, one week after the storm that would become known and feared as Hurricane
Katrina began to swell and launch itself toward southeast Louisiana? Why do National Guard
trucks continue to cruise past the thousands stuck at the Superdome and Convention Center?
Why do patients literally rot inside 90+-degree heat of hospitals? Why are stacks of cases of
drinking water in an Algiers firehouse kept from the parched throats of the thirsty as well as hungry at the nearby ferry across the Mississippi? Why aren't homeless "refugees" not moved into the 18 Schools that are dry and on higher ground in Greater New Orleans? Why weren't scores of available schoolbuses not used to move poor people out of the city? Why weren't food and water from the plenty in supermarkets and warehouses in this most busy of southern U. S. ports stockpiled before last Monday?
"They haven't done nuttin'!" Malik Rahim, my friend from work with Public Housing tenants
in San Francisco and with Marie Harrison's campaign for Supervisor, declares today.
"They had three days to prepare for this. Food--water--transportation--they haven't done nuttin'! The only things that have been done to help people have been done by private volunteers. Black and White," Malik says.
The question remains. Why is this man-made disaster from neglect, following New Orleans'
escape from the predicted height and brunt of a Grade-5 hurricane, happening? Why does
even New Orleans' head of Emergency Operations, Terry Ebbert, say about the U. S. Government's
inacitivity: "This is a national disgrace."
The only rational explanation for such irrational neglect and lack of preparation and
needlessly dispossession and suffering is that it's intentional, horrific as that explanation
may be to compassionate beings.
Race and Money Again at the Core
"And we all know that the prevailing model for urban development is to get rid of poor people. The disaster provides an opportunity to deploy this model in New Orleans on a citywide scale, under the guise of rebuilding the city and its infrastructure."
--Glen Ford on Black Commentator radio 9/2/05
Despite its precarious locale New Orleans contains some of the most prized real-estate in the Western world. Before Katrina struck the U. S., however, said real-estate's potential or speculative value was many times greater than its currently assessed value. The median value of a house owned by its owner in New Orleans was among the lowest of such in U. S. cities'--$87,000. Over half of the city's residents were renters, 28% lived below the federal poverty-level, and 67.3% were African-American.
Now only the well-off among New Orleans pre-Katrina residents will have the ready means and
material incentive to return and rebuild in their still submerged city. Also, the Wards hit hardest
by flooding include those that had the most Public Housing--those that contained "Projects"--
those, in short, that had land with the greatest potential gain in value if their poor residents were somehow and summarily removed.
The thought that machinations of further dispossession may result from the helpless suffering we see every hour from New Orleans' streets may give you pause. Your compassionate mind may revolt at imagining such calculated cruelty. Think, then, of 1870s' and 1880s' Reconstruction. Think of 1960s' and 1970s' Urban Renewal. Think of the same Armored Personnel Carriers as patrol Baghdad and Fallujah and Kabul now patrolling Poydras Avenue, while stranded peoples' bellies bloat, cuts grow more infected, and dysentery spreads. Think and be sure that to overcome such machinations and such a result will require all of us who believe in the saving nobility and communality of African-Americans to fight with a combined and concentrated force.
As Glen Ford concluded on Black Commentator radio today: "What we may see in the coming months is a massive displacement of Black New Orleans, to the four corners of the nation. The question that we must pose, repeatedly and in the strongest terms, is: Through whose vision, and in whose interest, will New Orleans rise again."



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