John Furie Zacharias
having a bad day in a strange place
Thunderstorms Anywhere

Thunderstorms in the Imajica

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Hurricane Katrina - Anne Rice's New Orleans

The other night when NBC aired its live "Concert for Hurricane Relief," I watched with amusement as rapper Kanye West surprised everyone by going on a mini-rant that ended when he blurted out, "George Bush doesn't care about black people!"  That little live nugget was cut from the taped program broadcast in the TV markets further west, but it did throw a bit of racial gasoline in the growing blame-game bonfire.  I was trying to avoid the distraction of finger pointing while researching web sites to include in the entries I did write.

I hope they were helpful for some.  I left the topics of who to blame, why to blame, and what not for a later time.  But, I did create a Blogdrive poll for you on the left side panel today.  Feel free to vote and vent there, or here.

Another thing upon which I initially tried to avoid wasting my energy was chasing down some of the many stories of incompetence and horror.  It was a difficult enough task for me to track down and verify all the humanitarian outreach and hopeful news surrounding the rescue, recovery, and relief efforts being made by heroic members of the Coast Guard, or the private sector, or individual groups of people.

At the same time, hurricane Katrina did seem to blow the ugly lid off of historic animosities in our country with regards to race and class.  Some people, like Kanye West, expressed his views on these issues bluntly and abruptly.  Others expressed similar views, but were more subtle about it.

One of the more poignant and articulate Katrina OpEds was in the NY Times entitled "WHAT do people really know about New Orleans?" by famed author Anne Rice:
Do they take away with them an awareness that it has always been not only a great white metropolis but also a great black city, a city where African-Americans have come together again and again to form the strongest African-American culture in the land?

The first literary magazine ever published in Louisiana was the work of black men, French-speaking poets and writers who brought together their work in three issues of a little book called L'Album Littéraire. That was in the 1840's, and by that time the city had a prosperous class of free black artisans, sculptors, businessmen, property owners, skilled laborers in all fields. Thousands of slaves lived on their own in the city, too, making a living at various jobs, and sending home a few dollars to their owners in the country at the end of the month.

This is not to diminish the horror of the slave market in the middle of the famous St. Louis Hotel, or the injustice of the slave labor on plantations from one end of the state to the other. It is merely to say that it was never all "have or have not" in this strange and beautiful city.

Later in the 19th century, as the Irish immigrants poured in by the thousands, filling the holds of ships that had emptied their cargoes of cotton in Liverpool, and as the German and Italian immigrants soon followed, a vital and complex culture emerged. Huge churches went up to serve the great faith of the city's European-born Catholics; convents and schools and orphanages were built for the newly arrived and the struggling; the city expanded in all directions with new neighborhoods of large, graceful houses, or areas of more humble cottages, even the smallest of which, with their floor-length shutters and deep-pitched roofs, possessed an undeniable Caribbean charm.

Through this all, black culture never declined in Louisiana. In fact, New Orleans became home to blacks in a way, perhaps, that few other American cities have ever been. Dillard University and Xavier University became two of the most outstanding black colleges in America; and once the battles of desegregation had been won, black New Orleanians entered all levels of life, building a visible middle class that is absent in far too many Western and Northern American cities to this day.

The influence of blacks on the music of the city and the nation is too immense and too well known to be described. It was black musicians coming down to New Orleans for work who nicknamed the city "the Big Easy" because it was a place where they could always find a job. But it's not fair to the nature of New Orleans to think of jazz and the blues as the poor man's music, or the music of the oppressed.

Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy.

Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn't want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn't want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives. They didn't want to leave a city where tolerance had always been able to outweigh prejudice, where patience had always been able to outweigh rage. They didn't want to leave a place that was theirs.

And so New Orleans prospered, slowly, unevenly, but surely - home to Protestants and Catholics, including the Irish parading through the old neighborhood on St. Patrick's Day as they hand out cabbages and potatoes and onions to the eager crowds; including the Italians, with their lavish St. Joseph's altars spread out with cakes and cookies in homes and restaurants and churches every March; including the uptown traditionalists who seek to preserve the peace and beauty of the Garden District; including the Germans with their clubs and traditions; including the black population playing an ever increasing role in the city's civic affairs.

Now nature has done what the Civil War couldn't do. Nature has done what the labor riots of the 1920's couldn't do. Nature had done what "modern life" with its relentless pursuit of efficiency couldn't do. It has done what racism couldn't do, and what segregation couldn't do either. Nature has laid the city waste - with a scope that brings to mind the end of Pompeii.

I share this history for a reason - and to answer questions that have arisen these last few days. Almost as soon as the cameras began panning over the rooftops, and the helicopters began chopping free those trapped in their attics, a chorus of voices rose. "Why didn't they leave?" people asked both on and off camera. "Why did they stay there when they knew a storm was coming?" One reporter even asked me, "Why do people live in such a place?"

Then as conditions became unbearable, the looters took to the streets. Windows were smashed, jewelry snatched, stores broken open, water and food and televisions carried out by fierce and uninhibited crowds.

Now the voices grew even louder. How could these thieves loot and pillage in a time of such crisis? How could people shoot one another? Because the faces of those drowning and the faces of those looting were largely black faces, race came into the picture. What kind of people are these, the people of New Orleans, who stay in a city about to be flooded, and then turn on one another?

Well, here's an answer. Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

What's more, thousands more who could have left stayed behind to help others. They went out in the helicopters and pulled the survivors off rooftops; they went through the flooded streets in their boats trying to gather those they could find. Meanwhile, city officials tried desperately to alleviate the worsening conditions in the Superdome, while makeshift shelters and hotels and hospitals struggled.

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees.

And it's true: eventually, help did come. But how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid? Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long? That's my question.

I know that New Orleans will win its fight in the end. I was born in the city and lived there for many years. It shaped who and what I am. Never have I experienced a place where people knew more about love, about family, about loyalty and about getting along than the people of New Orleans. It is perhaps their very gentleness that gives them their endurance.

They will rebuild as they have after storms of the past; and they will stay in New Orleans because it is where they have always lived, where their mothers and their fathers lived, where their churches were built by their ancestors, where their family graves carry names that go back 200 years. They will stay in New Orleans where they can enjoy a sweetness of family life that other communities lost long ago.

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.
On a personal note: there is no way I could follow what Anne Rice just wrote with anything.  I mean, c'mon.  It's Anne Rice.  But, I did leave you a gift, if you like CCR.

[Headphones] :: Born on the Bayou - CCR

Posted at 06:36 pm by John Furie Zacharias

September 8, 2005   08:44 AM PDT
YES the 'BLAME GAME' has already started -

GET the PEOPLE/ANIMALS out first - get the towns somewhat stable - wait a year for the shock to have softened a bit...

September 8, 2005   06:33 PM PDT
aw I followed it. It was a bit lengthy, but still.
September 9, 2005   11:36 AM PDT
Dude.. money and vehicles, when there's a catagory 5 hurricane coming towards you? I'm thinkin' a lot of those people just stayed around to loot. It was a.. "good opportunity" for looting.. if you didn't have a T.V. or radio, or something telling you how bad the hurricane was going to be. Who knows? They had more than a day to start walkin'. If ya can't walk, jack a shopping cart and hope someone's kind enough to push you. Things could have been done. What's it worth to blame someone, anyway? I blame the hurricane. And Kanye West might be right, George Bush probably doesn't care about black people.
September 9, 2005   08:18 PM PDT
Well, I don't see why I can't blame anyone. I'm so far away that all I can do to help is send money, or complain to/about government.

I think the blame game is what forces people to step-up to the plate. And frankly I'm sick of the term 'blame game'. I was quite sick of it the first day I was tuning into the news and it was being used.

But, whatever. Another cool writer is Poppy Z. Brite. I read her book 'Drawing Blood' where she incorporated New Orleans, the French Quarter in particular in the setting at the beginning. I think she wrote about that area a lot in her books. But that was the only one I read.
J f Z
September 9, 2005   11:15 PM PDT
Blame game is an irritating phrase, but I used it to get everyone thinking on the same page.

I love Nahlins when I partied there -- it reminded me alot of some of the little cities in Europe where I had a great time. I have some pix of me in Nahlin's, but I still need to unpack them from my own hurricane packing and scan them in ;)

I think a few people have seen me in my Red Wings jersey with a beard, though.
September 10, 2005   03:52 PM PDT
JfZ, have you ever seen this storm tracker software? Once downloaded, you can update any current hurricanes, get the ones from 2004 and 2005, and it comes with a bunch of historical ones too. You can compare storm tracks. It's interesting.

click on "WAFB9 Hurricane Tracker"
J f Z
September 10, 2005   11:37 PM PDT
I've seen 'hurricane tracker' software available for download, but I've never tested any program, CM. So good to know you're doing well now.
September 11, 2005   01:33 PM PDT
I'll tell you exactly why most people don't evacuate when there's a hurricane coming:

We get warned that a hurricane is coming several times per year. Every year. Usually they don't hit us. Sometimes they play it up big- big storm! coming right at you! get out now! And it doesn't hit us.

You prepare your home, your belongings, you pack your family in the car, pay for motel rooms or stay in a shelter, miss work. And it doesn't hit us.

It's been 35 years since this happened in New Orleans.

People become complacent about it.
J f Z
September 11, 2005   06:36 PM PDT
I think they call that 'hurricane fatigue,' but it's more like 'crying wolf' to me.

I can totally relate, CM. I still have stuff to unpack from last year's hurricanes in here in FL. I went crazy packing stuff up for Charley.

Then a week or so later, I evacuated for Frances. Then a week or so after that, I stayed home during Jeanne. All 3 of those storms did considerable damage.

I did hear from many people that hunkered down and rode out various hurricanes that they stayed because the emergency shelters would not allow them to bring their pets with them.
September 13, 2005   08:03 AM PDT
The real damage done by Katrina wasn't Katrina itself. It was the levee breaks and flooding. So who's responsibility for that? Local government? State? Federal? Nagin asked for state & federal assistance in repairing the levees; National Geographic ran an article in 2004 describing what would happen; several people said years ago that N.O. was a disaster waiting to happen.

People hear the same evacuation warning year after year, they are up-rooted and displaced, only to have nothing happen. It's no wonder they feel it's a "cry wolf" situation.

Instead of playing this "blame game", how about fixing the problem so it doesn't happen again.

But then, that would take all of these agencies working together. What a concept!
J f Z
September 14, 2005   02:24 AM PDT
Hey, thanks for those links, Wormy!

That Foo Fighters version of 'Born on the Bayou' was pretty good, too.
September 14, 2005   11:28 AM PDT
I think it would be incredibly stupid to rebuild new orleans and not do something about the levees. How can they not? As long as the lake can get into the city this WILL happen again and again. It absolutely will. The only question is when. And they have known this for years and years. I hope this is the incentive necessary for a real fix to finally become reality.
GOP of the Youth
September 15, 2005   02:30 PM PDT
NOLA has recieved federal aid for construction and maintenance of the levees. Its never been SPENT on the levees, but thats what it was meant for. As a New Orleans refugee, I want my home back. I blame Governor Blanco who was beat to the punch by President Bush in declaring a state of emergency in Louisiana. I blame Mayor Nagin who received a call from the National Hurricane Center on Friday reccommending and BEGGING for a mandatory evacuation and yet didn't declare one until the day before the storm hit. I blame the state and local governments who were supposed to protect us all along from this. I blame the city for not using the 500 some buses now sitting flooded in the streets before the storm hit to evacuate all the poor and destitute who wanted to get out. Most of all, I blame the looters. The ignorant people of New Orleans who sought to exploit and fight, causing rescue missions to be diverted into maintaining order. If we're going to play the blame game, lets blame the right people. Louisiana can't have someone holding their hand to plan for these things. It was their responsiblity and they blew it. The federal government is being blamed and I know it doesn't deserve it. Shame on Governor Blanco, on Senator Landrieu, and Mayor Nagin. Just... give me my city back and then get out of office. You don't deserve this spectacular city.
September 25, 2005   10:13 AM PDT
i was wanting to know the status of bancroft,la , merville,la and i have not been able to talk with family memebers since saturday about 7 am these cities are part of beaureguard parish
August 29, 2010   02:02 PM PDT
Thank you for reposting this. I was not online yet during Katrina and was disappointed not to hear Anne Rice's opinion on the matter at that tme. I obviously just missed it and it was great to have an opportinity to read her eloquent words. Her writing has made New Orleans live large in the imaginations of many who like myself never seemed to get there on vacation in real life.

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