Sunday, March 11, 2007

First Impressions

Our goal today was to immerse ourselves in the heart of the city, and really see for ourselves the current state of New Orleans. Since it was a warm southern day, we all rented bikes in the French Quarter and split up in two groups to explore. Our group headed down through a relatively nice, very "French" neighboorhood until we reached the Mississippi River at Audubom park. To our delight, we were delayed due to a church parade through a residential area. From there we headed up through Tulane University, which is an extremely beautiful campus, although almost entirely brand new because they suffered significant damage from Katrina.

Things changed on the other side of Tulane. We began to ride by adandoned homes, some with their windows boarded, some with water-damaged rubble on their sidewalks. Eerily, there were few people on the streets, almost like a ghostown. As we continued on our ride, we began to see the worst destruction. Few homes were rebuilt and most were deserted. At one point, we decided to take a photograph of a brown-colored watermark on a white garage to capture how high the water had actually risen. Simultaneoulsy we felt the same thing: that were were tourists sighseeing the effects of the worst natural catastrophe in the U.S. that affected the lives of hundreds of people. Then two of us decided to enter a deserted home whose front door was open. Each of us immediately noticed the two wooden ceiling fans, probably located in what was once a dining room, that were oddly bent out of shape like a wet noodle probably because of water damage. Later, we both discussed how awkward it was to step inside the home of a family who once depended on it for their security and comfort, who spent their money to buy it and develop it over the years.

We biked passed the spot where the 17th street levee breached, and looking at the layout, there was no question in our minds that any break in the levee would pose a substantial risk of flooding. The water lines were phenomenally high, and it was hard to imagine people struggling to find safety, and not being able to even find it on their roofs. Two people we met later in the day were telling stories us from the hurricane and the aftermath. This woman was telling us how a friend of hers was stranded on her rooftop for two days, and when she was finally rescued, she was dropped off on the highway. Her friend described US Army treating citizens like dogs, chucking water and food at them without stopping to see if they needed help.

These people also discussed with us how rough it has been in New Orleans in the last year and a half since the Hurricane. Our male friend knew 46 people who have committed suicide since then, and our female friend said that the Hurricane was really hard on her 12 year old son, who is currently on suicide watch. In case our first impressions and exploration casted any doubt in our minds that this city is really decaying, their stories really brought back the human element, and made us realize that even if some houses are rebuilt, people are still mentally affected and displaced from the Hurricane. Our friends said it best: they feel forgotten about.

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