METARIE, La. – Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA) trailers are an iconic marker. Not just of the disaster that befell their inhabitants, but of everything it entails. The desperation, despair, frustration, elation, hope and perhaps most endearing – the perseverance of those who refuse to give up - all accurate nuances to what is symbolized by a simple, plain, white travel trailer. Tomorrow, I will experience one night in one of these “temporary” dwellings. I am quite sure it will not sufficiently transfer the experience of daily, weekly, monthly and now approaching a full year of living in one of these boxes.
Tonight, I will endeavor to bring something different – something besides the news bites of the Lower Ninth Ward, different than the racial rhetoric and not just another story of the various levels of government falling flat on its collective face. This will be a tale of observation. Indeed, this story will reaffirm some of what was reported in the national news and now, because of Katrina’s one-year anniversary, is beginning to make its way back into the headlines once again.
The pictures do not do it justice.
The trailers are smaller and bleaker than any picture could say. Although the power has been restored, many, many of the homes are not using it; they are uninhabitable. The streets are lit, but the homes are black. There are waterlines everywhere - high water marks and the fainter lines of the receding levels. OK, not everywhere - just in 80 percent of the New Orleans area – ok, everywhere. Piles and piles of rubble are on virtually every corner, and in between – still, one-year later. Signs are blown over and left hanging – siding is blown off, and yet there is life here.
In an odd sort of way, the tales of the deserted “ghost town” are true to an extent, but to view this as a barren wasteland would be grossly inaccurate. Did the government fail the hurricane victims? Perhaps. Has the rest of the country forgotten about New Orleans? Well… yes and no, but not right now with the passing of this milestone. (I’ll get to Mississippi tomorrow – literally and figuratively. I haven’t forgotten). What struck me first and hardest was something a bit more positive. It speaks to a quality about the people in this part of the country that cannot be understated and should not be underestimated.
Now Orleans is rebuilding. With or without the government, regardless of whether or not the news cameras document it and all the while keeping the faith, this city will be back. As much destruction as there is, there is the resolve to match. Work is slowly but steadily moving along. There is traffic and I have even experienced the ironic pleasure of being stuck in it. Although many businesses are still closed up and many homes are gutted, there is progress being made. The stores are opening and there are at least some homes that have been re-inhabited. Sooner or later, the trailers will be gone.
But there is so much left to do. Disasters, natural and otherwise occur, have occurred and will continue to occur forever. In California we have had earthquakes, floods and wildfires. However, nothing in California’s entire recorded history remotely compares to the destruction that Katrina did. This one was over the top.
Pictures do not do it justice.