Crescent City. The City that Care Forgot. Sweet Lady Gumbo. Whatever you choose to call it, New Orleans is a unique city. More than 200 years of French, Spanish and Caribbean influence have molded and shaped the city that has given us succulent red beans and rice, jazz, Cafe du Monde and Bourbon Street (not to mention all the festivities associated with it). There is no city quite like it in America.
Which is why the barrage of images of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath is so gut-wrenching. At the time I write this, 80 percent of the city has been flooded and the Superdome stands scarred from the powerful winds that ripped off sections of the roof.
When the levees that have historically shielded New Orleans from being flooded failed, I felt a deep, heavy sense of grief-as a native New Orleanean, I understood the importance of the system of pumps, levees and canals that help keep the city, which lies below sea level, dry. Now I see the damage and devastation, and mourn my fellow New Orleaneans who lost their lives, as well as the centuries of history that could be forever lost as the water continues to rise.
As jazz bars get soaked away, looters plunder the downtown area, and people lay stranded on rooftops with no power, food or drinkable water, one ponders the lessons to be learned from Katrina-hurricanes are incredibly unpredictable and should not be underestimated.
We found that out when Katrina, then barely a Category 1 storm, hit us here in South Florida. Also, New Orleans’ system of pumps and levees, which as we’ve seen are vital to the city’s existence, was in dire need of being upgraded-now, more than ever, and definitely too late, do we realize this.
The Great City of New Orleans will no doubt rise from the waters and continue to serve a useful purpose as a major seaport and tourist destination. But more than likely, it will emerge as a vastly different city-if not physically, then psychologically. The city and her people will not forget the day Katrina came knocking and shook the city to its core-but if anyone can pull through and move beyond this disaster with the good spirits and mental stamina needed, the fine people in New Orleans can.
We do call it “The Big Easy,” after all.
Jay Rooney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.