Imagine living eight feet below sea-level in a brick home that is hundreds of years old. There is nothing protecting you from a sudden influx of dirty water but a natural levee that is barely withstanding the force of 125 mile per hour winds. Imagine being asked – no, told – to evacuate the home you have lived in your entire life, a home with more varied history than the centuries old buildings in Boston. Imagine refusing to leave; imagine not having the proper means to evacuate; imagine wanting to stay low, to live out the storm in the only city you’ve ever loved.
Since I have gotten up this morning, my senses have been smashed into reality with pictures and accounts of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that is, as we speak, carving up New Orleans’ levee and flooding one of the greatest cities in the world. Actually, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – this type of thing has been predicted for decades. New Orleans, while being on the edge of modern culture as the “bad boy” major city, has been on the edge of flood-caused destruction since it was first settled.
New Orleans was the site of our honeymoon, and in doing voluntary research to write the account of that honeymoon I developed quite an affinity for the city. I love its “I don’t care” attitude, and I love the sheer surprise of the city itself. It’s as if someone took every cultural nomad and threw them to Orleans, letting them settle the city however they wanted.
So, without question, it breaks my heart to see the pictures and film of the near-destruction of the city. Ten thousand people are sitting in the Superdome, a nearly indestructible building that still sustained some roof damage that is causing rain to pour in on the displaced residents. The French Quarter looks like a war zone as rain beats down into the centuries old buildings and wind smashes through every window. The cemeteries, build above ground to help prevent the dead from rising out of the ground during flood weather, are the only thing that seems to be settled, the only thing that looks natural in this setting.
Here’s the worst part: It’s not getting better. New Orleans has recieved up to ten inches of rain in the past 10 hours. Parts of New Orleans are already under six feet of water. The pumps that help rid the city of excess water have failed. Every street in the French Quarter is flooded. The storm is projected to continue on for another six hours.
All I can say is that I hope beyond hope that New Orleans can weather this storm without too much loss of history. There’s nothing that would make me happier than to know that places like the Napoleon House and Molly’s at the Market, buildings that are as much a part of my own personal history as they are of the city’s, are safe and ready to start serving drinks again as soon as the storms subside.
New Orleans is too important a city to have to endure this. But it’s something that would have happened regardless. There’s nothing more “Orleanesque” than the idea of living on the edge of existence, of knowing that any storm could wipe anything away.
Still, I’m pretty sure that after this storm peters out and the streets are cleaned out, the residents of New Orleans will just continue on living on the edge, awaiting the next disaster, knowing that even though they’re just one more storm from destruction, that they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We are watching these building deteriorate and break down before our eyes…because the water is so deep, boats are floating up the street. There is extensive damage here. This is essentially right now like hell on earth.” — CNN’s Gary Tuchman