- Renamed and back, but first a personal note. Post-Katrina,
writing about "The New Orleans Aftermath and (its) Ugly Glimpse of
the Future" turned this retiree into a writer and radio host.
- Now three years later, Gustav threatened and, on August
30, got New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to hype the risk, scare the public,
and order a dusk-to-dawn curfew and evacuation of the city's 239,000
residents ahead of what he called "the mother of all storms."
Many hundreds of thousands more along the Gulf coast. "Nearly two
million people from Texas to Alabama," according to an August 31
New York Times report. Thankfully without cause as "the storm of
the century" made landfall as a Category 2, weakened to a tropical
depression on September 2, and Louisianans were spared the worst of their
- According to The New York Times, New Orleans' levees
"were tested by a heavy storm surge but held, even though the repair
and reconstruction work from Hurricane Katrina, is far from finished....waves
pounded against a floodwall on the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, considered
a particularly weak link. Though water lapped over the wall for hours,
(it) was only ankle-to-knee deep....on the edge of the (Katrina-hit) Ninth
Ward." Overall, no serious flooding or major damage occurred, and
the Army Corps of Engineers expected no levee breaks. No thanks to its
shoddy work as discussed below.
- Over the weekend, nonetheless, Mayor Nagin was insistent
and suspiciously over-eager to evacuate the city. Those staying behind,
he said, were making "one of the biggest mistakes" of their
lives because no emergency services were offered and no "last resort"
shelters arranged like for Katrina - inadequate though they were. Case
in point - residents weren't allowed near the heavily guarded Superdome
and Convention Center.
- Then on Monday night with the threat passed, Nagin refused
to say when residents would be allowed back. Now he'll allow it on September
4 but kept a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place, and warned about power outages
and lack of sanitation. Earlier, Governor Bobby Jindal stated that return
would be delayed until roads and bridges were inspected and debris cleared.
A worrisome sign that something's up. Just like post-Katrina. Many evacuees
may be denied reentry. One-fourth of them had no transportation and were
bussed out. New Orleans poorest and mostly black. How they'll get back
isn't clear. And the fact that DHS chief Michael Chertoff was in town
is another reason to be suspicious.
- As well as thousands of National Guard forces and USNORTHCOM
contingents from across the country. Militarizing the city along with
local police and other security forces. Mobilized in place to crack down.
DHS and FEMA also and reports about Blackwater Worldwide and other paramilitaries.
- Very likely reliable as post-Katrina, Blackwater mercenaries
were deployed on New Orleans streets and in neighborhoods. Protected by
immunity, they came in full battle gear right after the storm hit and
spread out into the city's chaos. Their cover was to provide hurricane
relief, but they functioned as vigilantes. Empowered by federal, state
and local authorities. Terrorizing local residents. Removing them from
choice areas for development. Assuring they couldn't return. A part of
America's "war on terrorism" that's heading for citiies everywhere.
- They patrolled the Cresent City like Gestapo. Threatening
in SUVs with tinted windows and their logos on the back. Others in unmarked
cars with no license plates. Menacing in full battle gear. Wearing flak
jackets. Carrying automatic weapons with extra guns strapped to their
legs. Licensed to use them and kill. Their role as "the world's most
powerful mercenary army (employing) some of the most feared professional
killers in the world accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences
(and) largely off the congressional radar," according to author Jeremy
Scahill in his book on the company. Part of a scheme to militarize America
with New Orleans the first test case. Making its streets resemble Baghdad
and perhaps back now for an encore.
- Earlier the National Hurricane Center (NHC) called Gustav
"extremely dangerous" but remained cautious about the threat.
Powerful nonetheless at Category 2 (with winds around 110 mph) when it
made landfall on September 1 - downgraded from its expected Category 4
strength the preceding weekend. NHC said it struck land at Cocodrie, LA,
about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, so the city was spared a direct
hit. Nonetheless, rainfall was intense, flooding occurred, and along with
it damage to add to Katrina's fallout.
- It was more powerful with winds up to 130 mph and a storm
surge topping 27 feet, far above Gustav's eight foot level with some
forecasts that it could reach 14 feet. Katrina also made a direct hit
on the Mississippi coast while Gustav skirted along Louisiana's shoreline
at "a more gentle angle," according to the National Weather
Service. Nonetheless, widespread power outages and flooding were reported
from Texas to Mississippi, and earlier the storm killed up to 100 people
in the Caribbean as it roared across Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica,
the Cayman Islands, and Western Cuba.
- Reports from Kingston cited 11 deaths and "massive
damage to roads, bridges and utility lines as a result of mudslides and
flooding." The Dominican Republic at least eight more. Haiti, however,
fared worst - 66 or more dead, at least 10 reported missing, dozens hurt,
and many thousands displaced and their homes destroyed. Schools and other
buildings also. Roads cut. Bridges submerged and villages inundated in
the most vulnerable country in the Hemisphere.
- Cuba was best prepared the way it always is with tens
of thousands evacuated in time. No deaths were reported (nor in the Caymans),
but widespread damage from wind and flooding in the western part of the
island near Havana. Guantanamo is far to the East and was out of the storm's
- Remembering Katrina
- On August 29, 2005, it hit the Gulf coast and flooded
New Orleans. A city below sea level. Shaped like a bowl, and woefully
unprotected in areas housing poor blacks. Targeted for removal through
forced ethnic cleansing to let developers swoop in and take over. Federal,
state and local authorities complicit with corporate predators and ready.
The city militarized with police, National Guard, and Blackwater mercenaries.
Licensed to kill and they did. Making New Orleans safe for capital. Ready
now for an encore. What some observers call "disaster capitalism."
Exploiting security threats, "terror" attacks, economic meltdowns,
competing ideologies, and national disasters like Katrina and Gustav.
- New Orleans is a metaphor for capitalism's most savage
form - outside of war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. In summer 2005,
Katrina wiped out public housing. Erased communities, and let developers
replace them with upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice
city real estate. Gentrification writ large. Disneyfication of one of
the country's most desirable tourist destinations. Removing poor blacks
to make it possible. Assuring most would never return. Remaking New Orleans
for profit. Long planned and awaiting a storm to do it. Taking full advantage
when it hit.
- The Bush administration was heartless with other things
on its mind abroad and busy cutting social services budgets at home. It
refused emergency funds for public sector salaries so 3000 city workers
were fired. Charity Hospital had to close and remains shut. Public transit
was gutted and lost half its workers. Most public housing was targeted
for removal. Some sits on prime land close to the French Quarter. Developers
want it for luxury properties. Katrina (and now Gustav) remade New Orleans
to make it possible. It's a window on America's future and business as
usual no matter who wins in November. Hopeful optimists be prepared. Disappointment
is the operative word for 2009. "Fooled Again," according to
Mark Crispin Miller. Democracy here is for the privileged. The rest are
to be exploited by neglect and abandonment, then forgotten.
- Rules are being hardened. New Orleans is a domestic version
of what Iraq pioneered. Creating an open field for capital. Giving administration
favorites like Halliburton and Bechtel big contracts. Providing nothing
to the poor, disadvantaged and displaced. Importing cheap undocumented
labor instead of local workers. Suspending Davis-Bacon Act law that assures
prevailing wage rates must be paid on all federally funded or assisted
construction projects. Letting developers pay poverty scale instead and
deny benefits. Suspending environmental regulations, and dispensing with
unwanted people in the way. Assuring the inevitable by leaving New Orleans
unprotected, and ignoring FEMA's early 2001 prediction of the three most
likely US disasters:
- -- a terrorist attack on New York;
- -- a major San Francisco earthquake; and the one considered
most likely and catastrophic
- -- a hurricane and flood in New Orleans.
- Experts cited a city below sea level. Vulnerable on the
nation's Gulf coast. With inadequate evacuation routes. Poor levy protection.
A deteriorating ecosystem from overdevelopment. A catastrophe waiting
to happen. Little recollection of when Betsy (in 1965) buried New Orleans
under eight feet of water. It at Category 4 entering the Gulf, then downgraded
to Category 3 when it struck the city. A future Category 5 one will be
disastrous and sure eventually to come.
- The city is a bowl ringed by levees, protecting it from
the Mississippi to its south and Lake Pontchartrain in the north. At
its bottom depth, it lies 14 feet below sea level. Pumping out routine
rainfall draws water from the ground. That dries and sinks it deeper.
A problem called "subsidence." The city continues to sink. When
big storms hit, the bowl fills, and there's no place for water to drain.
- Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land a year through
erosion. Wetlands are disappearing. Solutions involve huge remediating
efforts so far not made. Rebuilding the protective delta. An adequate
levee system replacing poorly designed floodwalls not built to standard.
Totally overhauling years of planned neglect. Waiting for a chance like
Katrina and now Gustav to change the face of New Orleans forever, displace
its majority black population, and make the city whiter.
- Three years post-Katrina, nearly three-fifths of them
aren't back. Most never will be with developers remaking the city into
a tourist playground. Housing the wealthy in luxury condos. Keeping out
poor blacks in the way. Upgrading New Orleans for profit. "Revitalization"
according to city authorities.
- Low-cost housing is being phased out. Public transportation
as well along with public schools and health facilities that low-income
people depend on. FEMA is now exploiting a tragedy and making it worse.
Kicking people without homes out of trailers and stranding them on their
- Bill Quigley is a law professor and Director of the Law
Clinic and Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University in New
Orleans. He's also been an activist public service lawyer for 30 years
- for numerous social issues, including post-Katrina justice.
- In an August 26 article, he wrote about the "Katrina
Pain Index: New Orleans Three Years Later" and explained the way
the city looks today. Some of his data and more are covered below.
- -- No Louisiana renters are getting financial aid under
the Louisiana Recovery Authority's (LRA) handling of the $10 billion
post-Katrina federal Road Home Community Development Block Grant; it's
directed to 116,708 homeowners instead and excludes most blacks.
- -- No rebuilding plans are in place for the 963 St. Bernard
Housing Development units demolished.
- -- No data is available to evaluate privatized charter
schools; Katrina destroyed half the city's public school buildings; scattered
tens of thousands of students and teachers across the country; federal
and local authorities jumped on the chance; millions in federal funding
went to convert public schools to charter for-profit ones with no debate,
input or even knowledge of parents and teachers; all unionized city school
employees were fired; then selectively rehired at less pay and fewer or
no benefits; New Orleans schools were handed to business; the remaining
poor, mostly black population, was disenfranchised; consigned to under-funded
schools and denied the education they deserve; 40% fewer special education
students (needing extra help) now attend charter schools compared to underfunded
public ones; most city schools today are for-profit; plans are for all
of them to be.
- -- Virtually no rental homes were repaired - 82 out of
a projected 10,000 in need.
- -- New Orleans ranks first in the nation in percentage
of vacant or ruined housing units.
- -- Four of the 13 city Planning Districts are as much
at flood risk as before Katrina.
- -- Only 11% of hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward families have
returned; pre-Katrina, it was one of the country's richest cultural communities;
one community leader said it had an "atmosphere of engagement;"
in dialogue, music, words and history; a Make It Right Stakeholders Coalition
promotes rebuilding and helps residents return to the neighborhood; federal
and city authorities are committed to obstructing them.
- -- Experts estimate it will take 20 to 25 years to rebuild
New Orleans at the current pace of reconstruction.
- -- There are 25% fewer hospitals in the metro area than
pre- Katrina; 38% fewer hospital beds.
- -- One-third of city neighborhoods have less than half
their pre- Katrina households; ones where poor black people live.
- -- Rents have risen 46% making housing unaffordable for
poor and low income people.
- -- 81% of city homeowners got insufficient funding to
repair their homes.
- -- post-Katrina, 10,000 homes were demolished.
- -- thousands are still in temporary trailers; FEMA is
slowly displacing them.
- -- the homeless population doubled post-Katrina.
- -- 32,000 children never returned to public schools;
their population is half the pre-Katrina total.
- -- 39,000 Louisiana homeowners applying for federal repair
and rebuilding aid never got it.
- -- 46,000 fewer black voters were eligible in 2007 than
- -- there are nearly 72,000 vacant, ruined or unoccupied
- -- the city's population was reduced by 214,000 and is
now 239,000, according to the latest US Census Bureau estimate; and
- -- billions of FEMA damage and repair funding has yet
to be made available to city and state residents; it likely never will
- Meanwhile, three years post-Katrina, $15 billion in New
Orleans hurricane protection construction has barely started even though
the US Army Corps of Engineers says 20% of it is completed. All of it
is supposed to be by 2011, and the Corps claims New Orleans "now
has the best flood protection in its history."
- Point of fact - it's woefully inadequate. The city remains
vulnerable, especially in its eastern poorer areas. Too little is being
done to prevent another Katrina disaster that's inevitable from a powerful
future storm. If a Category 5, it'll be disastrous, and a shocking April
24 WWL-TV report provides evidence.
- It's headlined: "4 Investigates: Floodwalls stuffed
with newspaper?" "It blows my mind," according to St. Bernard
parish president Craig Taffaro showing videotape evidence on-air. An
indictment of a US Army Corps of Engineers hired contractor. A resident
said two years ago he witnessed the expansion joint opening between floodwalls
being stuffed with newspapers. "The whole length" of it. And
when he confronted the contractor he was told "when Congress sends
down the money, it would be repaired the proper way."
- It wasn't as Gustav approached, and WWL asked a local
American Society of Civil Engineers member to investigate. A man ASCE
named Louisiana's outstanding civil engineer in 2003 - Subhash Kulkarni.
He said: "I cannot even comprehend that somebody would stuff some
newspaper in there." Floodwall expansion joints have three lines
- -- an elastic strip to help keep out water;
- -- waterstops in the middle that's most important; the
St. Bernard floodwall has them; and
- -- rubber joints in between to keep out foreign objects;
St. Bernard floodwalls lack them; newspaper was used instead; Kulkarni
called it "very serious; it doesn't take a lot of stress to cause
the failure of these floodwalls; we don't know after two or three years
how the main joint will perform; this is the first line of defense."
- For its part, the Corps of Engineers defended the work
and denied any of it was shoddy, but a Corps emailer disagreed. He told
WWL that "sponge rubber" is required next to waterstops - the
same areas where newspaper was used instead. Ecron Corporation did the
work. Contractually it was obliged to do it right. The company president
didn't respond to WWL's "repeated requests for a comment," and
the station discovered that his company "is not even licensed by
the state's board for contractors." Apparently not a problem with
the Corps of Engineers. Or with the Bush administration and its corporate
allies who crave another chance to make New Orleans even whiter and free
up more choice real estate for high-profit development.
- A total city makeover with billions in federal and local
funding to assist. Welcome to America's future. Upscale tourist destinations.
Luxury accommodations for the privileged. Gated communities for the wealthy.
Every amenity imaginable. For most others and the nation's poor - exploitation
by neglect and abandonment. Growing numbers on society's fringes ignored
and forgotten. A two-party duopoly assuring it. Militarizing the country
for enforcement. Planning an unfriendly future by making America into
a police state. Replicating the model everywhere. New Orleans and Iraq
are incubators. Not the kind of country for young people to inherit.
High time that enough of us realize it's our job to prevent it.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Center
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays
from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished
guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.