When the Levees Broke

During the last week of August for the past six years, our country has paused to reflect on the 2005 Gulf Coast destruction initially birthed from Hurricane Katrina. The annual reflection tends to focus on New Orleans because of the mass destruction and incomprehensible devastation it and its citizens faced. However, much of what happened to New Orleans was not a direct result of Hurricane Katrina. It’s easier to umbrella the tragedies in New Orleans under the natural disaster Hurricane Katrina, something outside of the realm of human control, than confront the deficiencies of government agencies that allowed New Orleans to drown, which does rest under human control.

By 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina had passed through New Orleans. Aside from loss of power and downed trees, the city was in the clear. That was, until a levee broke at the Industrial Canal. Then a levee broke at the 17th Street Canal followed by levee breaches at two other canals. In all, the breaches caused floods of nearly 8 feet in the Lower Ninth Ward, 10 feet in St. Bernard Parish and more than 10 feet in New Orleans East, Gentilly, Lakeview and Plaquemines Parish. Residences were submerged forcing the ambulatory to move to their rooftops and climb trees while awaiting rescue. Death awaited the immobile. The city that rests below sea level was now completely under water.

An already bad situation became worse. The current president chose to fly over the devastation instead of land and meet with victims to ascertain needs; U.S. citizens attempting to flee the devastation in New Orleans were called refugees and treated as such; water and food was delayed in reaching victims causing death; newborns and elderly fatally suffered from malnutrition in great numbers; famished and dehydrated victims were chided and deemed looters for seeking relief; guns pointed at New Orleanians who hadn’t perpetuated violence by NOPD and the National Guard; some fleeing New Orleans were shot and killed as they were told they were welcome in neighboring communities; and families forcibly separated around the country with little notification once buses arrived in New Orleans to remove citizens. It was later revealed that officials had been informed about the weakening levees and chose not to strengthen them.

So no, I don’t wish to recall Hurricane Katrina when specifically thinking about the tragedies of New Orleans (though it’s sufficient for recalling devastation among the rest of the Gulf Coast.) I do, however, wish to continue to illuminate the local, state and federal government insufficiencies and apathy it publicly displayed for its citizens – taxpayers – that started when the levees they built and are charged with maintaining broke.