Residents of New Orleans gathered tonight for a candlelight vigil with 1600 candles to commemorate those who lost their lives after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly one year ago in New Orleans. Those who gathered to remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina shared “tears and anger at the officials who abandoned tens of thousands to the chaos and whose bureaucratic bungling continues to complicate reconstruction efforts.”
They were there to mourn the “deaths of hundreds of people who would have been alive today if the city’s levee system had not been built below specifications and at levels that were long acknowledged to be inadequate to protect the low-lying city.”
The Big Easy sidestepped the worst of Katrina’s winds when it ravaged the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. But the violent storm surge smashed the levees and rushing floods swallowed 80 percent of the city, reaching depths of six meters (20 feet) in some areas. The bulk of the storm’s more than 1,500 deaths were in those flooded neighborhoods.
“It wasn’t Katrina who beat us – it was human neglect,” said pastor Jerome LeDoux.
That neglect extended to the rescue and recovery effort. The mandatory evacuation order was given a scant 19 hours before landfall and those who did not have cars or the money to leave were offered one option: shelter in the Superdome sports arena.
Hurrican Katrina exposed the deep racial divides, poverty and racism that persist in the U.S. It’s seen on the campaign trail and even from celebrities, frequently this year and those who let their feelings be known are starting to pay the price.
Many here believe help would have arrived faster if the people trapped for days on their roofs and at the Convention Center and Superdome had not been predominantly poor and black.
The city’s isn’t that way anymore. Skyrocketing rents and the government’s failure to help those who can’t afford to rebuild on their own come home to New Orleans has turned the once predominantly black city into a majority white city.
“I really feel the government is not doing what it’s supposed to by black people,” said Alfred Doucette, a Mardi Gras Indian chief and community leader. “Where’s my people that lived in my neighborhood?”
The slow and uneven pace of the recovery has deepened the feeling of abandonment and frustration for many in New Orleans. Half the city remains scattered across the country and a recent poll showed that 30 percent of those who have returned are considering leaving.
Life has returned to normal in areas that escaped the flooding – the French Quarter, Uptown, the Garden District and some suburbs – but those are mostly wealthier white neighborhoods.
Progress elsewhere has been a patchwork of projects undertaken mostly at the individual level after political infighting stalled the release of the city’s reconstruction plan until the end of the year.
The city has begun posting demolition notices on houses even though it has not issued any guidelines about which areas will be safe from future flooding and the state has not sent promised rebuilding funds.
ThinkProgress tells us the ‘Real State of New Orleans’ here.
The 1600 bags with the candles are on the Lake Ponchartrain Levee in eastern New Orleans. Tonight’s event included the playing of ‘Amazing Grace,’ and ‘Taps.’
** (AP Photos/Alex Brandon)