A Travellerspoint blog

New Orleans

the big easy - so they tell me.

all seasons in one day 28 °C

Spent some time in San Diego and Baja California but as I am going back to both I will add an entry from there at a later date. While I was in New York I spoke with Artis and he told me about a volunteer program that Deutsche runs in New Orleans each year. Houses that were destroyed by Katrina and not covered by insurance have teams of volunteers from all over the states and beyond come down and start the reconstruction process. After 9 years at DB I figured I could tag along. Not like I was looking for a free lunch or anything - although they did provide sandwiches.

Oh, and Jazz fest was on over the following weekend so it combines some basic philanthropy with food and a couple of drinks. Judge for yourself my motives. In any case the first New Orleans blog will deal with the construction and what I picked up while I was there and the second part will be more reminiscent of previous excursions. Hope that works for you. Seemed inappropriate to have them both on the same page.

So I arrived on the Wednesday. We stayed in the French quarter - which was only moistened by the rain and not the floods. The main area of devastation is not far as the crow flies but is 50 or so feet closer to the level of the Mississippi and also right next to the levy. This was not a good thing as it turned out. The area is called the lower 9th. It contained the poorest of the New Orleans residents and as such was (the closer you got to the levy) predominantly (and then completely) a black neighbourhood. New Orleans was originally not the richest city in the US so the poor here were already among the countries worse off.

When the levy broke flood waters reached a peak of 25 feet. Houses that were built on concrete foundations but not flood proof were physically swept away on the tide. Some are still close to their original location and others were lost forever. The floods did not immediately recede and as such the entire place was awash with no hope of the displaced returning.


The area used to be home to 17,000 people. Now, 3 years on, there are only 6,000 people living there and they are still living amidst what looks to be a warzone.



Houses across New Orleans had been sold hurricane damage as part of their insurance policies but no-one ever thought that the government and state constructed levy would disintegrate and as such none had flood damage cover. This of course meant that houses were destroyed with no money to rebuild or repair. The local economy shut down for months so locals had no place to live and no money to start again. When close to the poverty trap to start with it doesn't take much to push you over the line. Government reaction appears to have been slow and ineffective. People were given trailers to live in but have to sort out their houses themselves. Many of them have been abandoned and are unlikely to be lived in again. It makes for a pretty depressing landscape.


There are much better informed individuals who have described the mistakes and the ongoing indifference to the plight of the lower 9th far more eloquently than I but I am still compelled to have an opinion. It seems a travesty that billions can be spent on a questionable war abroad when basic human rights are ignored at home. That there is no help at hand, or desire to support, those that need it most. People however are trying to help. Many volunteer schemes have been put in place and they have thousands of volunteers trying to get the community back on its feet. I hope they succeed. I feel some shame at sounding so high and mighty when all I did was some basic construction work on a house for 1 day. Well at least I did until someone turned up who should have been more shame-faced than I.


Republican government mis-manages the disaster to an almost stupefying degree. Then rock up for a photo op. Surely the last place to campaign for election for McCain should be New Orleans. He "appreciated" all our efforts. The locals are very clear about his party's efforts and stayed indoors until he had left. Its a crazy world sometimes, but seriously..... The only real lesson I can glean from Katrina and the aftermath? Try not to be poor and outside a key election demographic when the waters come. Bonne chance.

So the house we were working on (the rest of the team had been there all week) had not been touched since the floods. In itself a depressing thing but to find books, cd's, clothes and the other remnants of a life and a home were sad to see. The bank team get to do the dirty work of stripping the house back to its bare bones when a more skilled team will come in and make it habitable again.


The sheer amount of stuff in a house when you strip out everything is pretty amazing.


But I was most glad to have made a very small contribution. Hopefully the volunteers will keep on coming and at some point in the future the lower 9th will get back to some degree of normality. Fingers crossed. Well done to all of those who did the hard work before I arrived, and thanks to Artis for getting me to come along.


So end of part 1. Will show the happier face of New Orleans when I write next. See you in a day or so. Be well.


Posted by lidster 13:47 Archived in USA

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