When I came to New Orleans I had no idea how Hurricane Katrina had really hit and destroyed the town. It was a journalist who provided insight, the Feature Editor of the local newspaper, the Times Picayune. The team did a great job covering the storm and its consequences and got two Pulitzer Prices for their reporting.
We did a “Katrina Tour”. That might sound irritating at first sight, almost similar to tours you can register for at Disneyland or to see the graves of the most important writers and musicians in some cities all over the world. It was different.
He took me to the diverse parts of the city of New Orleans and I saw what one can’t imagine without seeing. What devastation nature can cause for things and for people. I knew the statistics, I had read a lot about Katrina: 55 levee breaches and 250.000 houses flooded in New Orleans. An area seven times the size of Manhattan went under water, in most parts the water rose to 7,60 meters. About 1.800 people died because of the storm or its aftermath. A vague number. Nobody knows accurately. An elderly woman dying of heart stroke after having realized that her home and parts of her family were gone. Is she a Katrina victim? It’s not about numbers, it’s about the stories of people’s lives that are told by the debris that can still be examined in some parts of New Orleans.
People lost relatives, friends and neighbours, their homes, their furniture, just everything. A lot of people lost every family photograph. The water wiped out houses, leaving nothing behind but some stairs and parts of the screen door. Many people came back after the storm and found nothing else but the brick with their own street number on it. They took it as a life souvenir.
A vast insight that I got from seeing all that I hadn’t realized like this before: It was not the storm that did all that damage to New Orleans. It was the water. It wiped out parts of the city because of misconstructed levees. They should have protected the people and the houses. This catastrophe was man made in a variety of ways.
“It is not a natural disaster”, one of the colleagues at the Times Picayune told me, “it’s more like war.” The observer today has to admit: yes, it is.