When the levee breaks

“New Orleans citizens did not remark the heat, or if they did they relished it. They were habituated to that moist and breathless atmosphere, they thrived on it, they paced their lives in accordance with it”
— Saratoga Trunk
Edna Ferber

The water is rising in New Orleans, in the French Quarter where I fell in love with the city’s debauchery and free spirit, and it’s not subsiding. From where I stand, back on dry land in South Dakota, it’s hard to tell whether it ever will, and it’s even more difficult to think of New Orleans as a city – a thriving, bustling, living city — again.

The levees have been breached, and now there is nothing stopping the water from rushing in. Even more frightening, however, is the fact that there’s little (to no) chance that the water will be able to be spit back out before irreparable damage has taken hold. New Orleans was bracing itself for this disaster for years. I was hoping it wouldn’t come in my lifetime.

This might sound bleak, but from what I’ve seen so far, bleak is putting it lightly. Thankfully the death toll is much lower than it could have been. Still, it’s unfortunate there was a death toll to begin with. An estimated 2.5 billion dollars in repairs along the coast isn’t anything to scoff at, but the loss of tourism, history and the city’s livelihood might be even more costly in the long run.

Eighty percent of the city is underwater, and the water is still rising. We could very well be witnessing the death of a city – a major metropolitan city with it’s own sports teams and suburbs – in our lifetime. We are watching the destruction of a once-indestructible legend, a city that created it’s own niche in a widely varied country. It’s a city that could not be duplicated, regardless of the tools used.

We are watching a great city, one of the greatest I’ve ever stepped foot in, drown while Mother Nature takes back the land that had once belonged to the gulf.

It’s drowning, and we may not be able to pull it out before it’s too late.

AP PHOTO -- The levees have broken, and the water's on its way in.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 30th, 2005