The resplendent neon “x’s” have stained the homes of the victims of perhaps the most perfect hurricane ever to hit the United States. It has been five long years of hopeless quandary in Southern Lousiana and apparently, the Category 5 Hurricane was not enough. Additional hurricanes and a catastrophic oil spill have been plaguing the livelihoods of the men and women since April and for many more years to come. But this is not another story about the oil spill. This is about Katrina.
A timeline of the storm:
August 28, 2005 11:31 a.m., President Bush released a statement at his ranch in Crawford that contained 203 words about Katrina and 819 congratulating Iraqis on their new constitution.
At 8:30 p.m. an empty Amtrack train leaves New Orleans leaving hundreds of potential evacuees in their homes, waiting.
On August 29, 2005 at 8 a.m., the Hurricane strikes. The earthen levees simply were no match for the 18 to 25 feet of water surging into the city always in a continual state of partying. The Mississippi had 47 foot waves. Winds whipped at 145 mph. People climbed onto roofs and overpasses where tent-cities were
established for weeks. Absolute horror.
At 9 a.m. the eastern part of the city and the Saint Bernard Parish are flooded. Thousands are trapped. The worst has not yet come.
The AP reported that New Orleans could become “a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released…from the city’s legendary cemeteries.”
At 11:06 the President gives the hurricane and its victims 156 words at a 44 minute Medicare prescription drug benefit in Arizona.
At 4:40 p.m. Bush appears in California for another Medicare event. He says, “For those of you who are concerned about whether or not we’re prepared to help, don’t be. We are. We’re in place.”
The 17th Street Canal levee goes in late morning, leading the water from Lake Pontchartrain into the city in mere seconds.
By dawn of August 30, 2005, water had risen overnight and gushed through the city’s business district. The highways are impassable. Water is up to the rooftops in St. Bernard. 80 percent of New Orleans was under water.
…Five years later.
A shade of moldy green reaches between half and three-quarters-way up the houses still left in areas hit the hardest. The Lower Ninth Warde, or the poorest community in New Orleans, has been partially cleared of the destroyed houses. Few are left. Brick and cement stoops remain that lead to non-existent homes. There are no grocery stores. There is no public transportation. A mere 18 percent of the population has come back to the Lower 9th.
Countless groups of church-goers and college students on their spring breaks have come to help in any way they can. Brad Pitt even jumped on board. The enthusiasm and compassion is heartwarming to say the least. But it’s been five years. And it seems that Southern Louisiana is a magnet for turmoil and disasters of biblical proportion.
The symbolic Crayola-colored “x’s,” though bleached out by the infamous Lousianan heat, speak loudly without any words. I remember driving through the abandoned streets of the devastated areas searching for a number one in the bottom quadrant of the deadly game of tic-tac-toe stamped on the homes. I can fortunately say the number was always zero, indicating that no one was found dead in the house.
The “x’s” are embedded into the collective memory of all who have seen them. A simple letter conveys the magnitude of the disaster and hopefully, reminds us that there is so much more to do in the Big Easy.