Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Re-visiting the Lower 9

New post with photos and notes at Katrina Refrigerator here. Again, hadn't read it in a year, and there we were with Rita approaching being furious with FEMA and the Red Cross as people in Los Angeles were sending in help. I remember how incredibly angry I was, and re-reading it made me mad all over again at the stupidity. The post is self-explanatory and the notes tell you who was sending it. Might surprise you.

Another rage story::::::::::::boy, she's raging today::::::::::::um, yup::::::::::

Last week I took my son in law to the Lower 9. I'd been there many, many times before, had taken supplies over to the Common Ground folks when they first got in there, and had taken pictures of the barge. I had sent out an online photo album, which I have to track down, that interspersed pictures of the Lower 9 with archive photos of Hiroshima. I got a lot of negative mail on that photo album from people to whom it had been forwarded asking me how I could compare anything with Hiroshima. My stock answer then and now is "Go over and STAND there. LOOK at the vastness of it. You'll understand." I saw a poster somewhere later that had a photo of the Lower 9 and Hiroshima. The tag line was, "But they REBUILT Hiroshima."

Well, suddenly last week, after having not been there in a while, off I go across the Industrial Canal. I show my passenger where the barge sat, where the levee broke. Point out where houses that the barge destroyed had been, then drove block by block, seeing water mains still spurting here and there. But what was really strange was that now, so much of the real devastation is covered by four foot tall grass. It's no longer a block after block inventory of cups and saucers and bicycle parts and lives and there aren't pieces of clothing hanging from the trees. The grass masking didn't make the tears stay away, I knew what was under the green. I am sure this is not what is meant by "green space." What was interesting was that once the tears came, a deep rage pounded into my stomach and I heard myself hollering, "This didn't HAVE to happen. It wasn't the damn storm, it was the Corps of Engineers, it was neglect, it was LEVEES. It was negligent homicide."

It's a year later. What caused that rage to bellow out just then? I had rounded a corner, can't remember the street, although Common Ground has handpainted street signs up on just about every corner now. Rounded that corner. Block after block of tall grass with the occasional house atop car here or there, moldering, and then, on one corner, was a stoop. Just the stoop, with the steps that went out the side of the corner lot house that once stood there sitting swept and by themselves a few yards from the stoop. The grass all around it, along the property line, had been cut. This tiny little square of cut grass, surrounded by tall grass, with its stoops swept was a little picture, a symbol, of the owner's grasping at hope that the house will be rebuilt and the neighborhood will survive.

I drove over near the newly built levees, and they didn't look very stout to me. No armoring, didn't seem very tall, but I didn't get out to look, and they looked pretty thin and I'm no engineer. It was not, as Blanche DuBois would have put it, "Awe inspiring!" It was better than the dirt mound I'd seen last time I'd been there, but nevertheless, it didn't inspire much hope in me.

This week, local bloggers have been talking about the difference in the rebuilding of the Lower 9 (now ALWAYS called the LOWER 9 to distinguish it from the UPPER 9th Ward) and some interesting questions have arisen and need to be addressed. If there are institutionalized differences in the demolition standards depending on the neighborhood, then it's an obscenity.

First from Mark Folse at WetBank Guide, here, a post regarding these possible differences in standards for demolition in the Lower 9 compared to Lakeview (as sick as we all are of that comparison, it's still nonetheless something we need to be noticing.)

Another blogger posted a long and well worth the read New Yorker article on the history of the Lower 9 and some of the political screw-ups since the storm. A well written, well researched article, and unfortunately I can't remember if it was Humid City or Humid Haney who posted it. Thanks to whoever it was. It was totally worth it and is a must read for anyone interested in what's going on here. Although, for us locals, it might make us want to take out a Recall Nagin billboard on I-10. The article also discusses why the Lower 9 is such a "flashpoint" as the author calls it.

Flashpoint or not, the fact is that after a year, that area is still painful, haunted and haunting, with little glimmers of hope here and there, like the well tended grass around the abandoned solitary stoop. I hope that their hope isn't misplaced.

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