cross-posted at dailykos
On the second anniversary of Katrina, I attended a candlelight vigil held on the Haynes Boulevard Levee in New Orleans East. It was well attended by city officials, community leaders and regular citizens that came out that night to honor the dead and renew their commitment to bringing New Orleans back as a viable and vibrant part of New Orleans.
As we stood on “the levee that did not fail,” Cynthia Willard-Lewis, New Orleans council member from District E, urged us to
continue to talk about what we have seen and what we have heard. For two years we have seen great confusion and a sense of abandonment. And so we continue to tell the stories that hope beyond hope drives the people of Eastern New Orleans.
So in that spirit follow me below the fold to meet Jennifer and Eva, two survivors making it work in the city they love and still call home. New Orleans, cher.
New Orleans East was one of the hardest hit areas in the city. It’s home to a diverse population which includes people of moderate means, very high end properties and a large and robust Vietnamese American community in the Versailles neighborhood also known as Village de L’est. Technically part of St Bernard Parish, NOLA East lies right over the bridge and has a distinct country feel. It was one of the last areas of NOLA to be settled and consequently many of the neighborhood names are still up for grabs. This area of the city is dotted with lakes; it supported a good deal of small scale farmland and the fishing was primo. From Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a treasure trove of information about the city and its neighborhoods:
Little Woods Neighborhood Snapshot
Teaming with hundreds of Lake Pontchartrain’s famous “camps,” Little Woods (a.k.a. Edgelake) was a famous getaway spot for New Orleanians until Hurricane Georges washed away almost all of the camps in 1998.
Pieces of Edgelake/Little Woods? history
The first lakefront land available in the city was Edgelake. The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of lakefront developments in New Orleans. Edgelake consists of relatively high land fronting the lake for 5 miles east of the Industrial Canal.
Several feet offshore, New Orleans residents built small wooden houses on stilts, which they referred to as “fishing camps” or just “camps.” These camps were built on land owned by the Levee Board and camp owners paid no rent. Some people referred to this stretch of stilt-legged cabins that lined the lakefront as “The Poor Man’s Miami Beach.”
Early jazz musicians of all races and economic classes performed in groups at the lakefront ? a place where musical ideas and techniques were shared and mixed. Musicians such as Alcide “Yellow” Nunez and the Moonlight Serenaders played in clubs along the lakefront and even broadcast on local radio stations from this New Orleans resort area. “The Camps” have been immortalized in art, literature, and popular music.
First up is Jennifer. Her father and grandfather emigrated to New Orleans after the Vietnam War and it looks like they made a nice little home for themselves and their beautiful Jennifer here, a member of the Vietnamese American Young Leadership Program of New Orleans.
I apologize for the poor sound quality due to the wind and the mic check going on before the event started.
Video: Jennifer (7:08)
I started by asking Jennifer why she came down to the vigil that evening. Apparently this was the second held in NOLA East on the anniversary of Katrina.
Mainly I’m here to remember people who passed on during the time of the hurricane. And we’re here to try and focus on what has happened during the past two years.
She evacuated with her family the day before the hurricane and it took them a year to return. She has friends that didn’t leave the city and had to evacuate after the levees failed and the water came in from “every direction,” that was “really tough.” I asked her what’s going on in New Orleans East since the hurricane.
We’re trying to get everything back together and trying to get our community back up to get all the stores open and the hospitals open.
It’s a chore just to go to the grocery store now.
Yes it is. We have to go all the way almost to Metarie just to do grocery shopping.
There was an article in the paper today about how there are signs of life and vitality in New Orleans, do you agree with that?
I kind of agree with that. Partly because people are coming back, but around my neighborhood where people live not many came back. We had a t least 6-8 feet of water.
And nothing is covered either…
Nope, my dad just stayed and rebuilt our house on his own… My parents did it on their own. We didn’t have any money from the Road Home money… Not a single penny… It’s so hard for people to rebuild because right now people are worried about food and things like that… It’s hard because everything is not together. In the Vietnamese community, part of us are coming back… some of my family moved away and some are coming back… part of my family lives in Houston now… They just bought a house in Houston… it’s been crazy here. What’s most important to me right now is getting the hospitals opened.
New Orleans had two hospitals before the storm now they have none. Jennifer talks about going to the clinic to get seen recently.
The closest hospital is downtown. Before the storm we had two hospitals one on Reed and one on Bullard… Right now we have a small free clinic … and you have to go there at like 5 o’clock in the morning to sign up and then wait. I recently went to go see the doctor there… My mom had to wake me up at five just to go over there and sign up and my appointment was for one o’clock.
What would you like people to know about you and your struggle today?
Well right now I’m not going through too much of a struggle, but (feedback from the mic) everyone is coming back. And I want people to know that we’re coming back to New Orleans. And we’re trying to bring it back the way it used to be and better… Just because the hurricane came to us we are not totally devastated. We will let a hurricane bring us down… Because I grew up here. I grew up here my whole life. My parents came from Vietnam, my Dad and Grandfather, and I don’t want them to think that they lived here all this time and now they have to leave just because of the devastation of a hurricane.
Okay? This is America and it’s not right that the devastation caused to New Orleans by the failure of the man made levees and the event of Katrina, vicious as it was, would take away Jennifer’s right to self determination in where she lives and contributes to the American community. I’m sorry that Jennifer’s dad and grandfather not only had to go through the devastation brought to their shores by the Vietnam War but now have to rebuild their own home without any help from the government of a vastly wealthy nation after the devastation brought to their shores by Katrina and the subsequent failure of the levees built to protect New Orleans East and their home.
And now we turn to Eva. I can’t believe I met fellow Yankee (not that kind) from Massachusetts down there on the levee that night.
Video: Eva (8:43)
My name is Eva. I’m originally from Massachusetts, lived in New Orleans since 1970.
Were you here during Katrina? What would you like to say about that?
Well we had lots of water. We live just down the road here. It seemed that th
e water just came from every direction… My late husband and I were here and we came downstairs to have breakfast, the power went out, the wind had pretty much abated
and all of a sudden my husband said, “where’s the water coming from?” … And then all of a sudden water was just coming in from everywhere… We didn’t evacuate until Thursday after the storm… We have a two story town home, and so we were just sitting on top of the stairs, saying, “please stop, please stop.” We came back in late October of ’05.
They returned to remove any valuables and clear out the first floor with their daughter and son-in-law from North Carolina. Her son-in-law, an ex-marine, had some very significant problems not losing his lunch when he “wrestled the refrigerator” out of the house.
What’s going on in your neighborhood today?
My neighborhood is coming along quite well… I would say that it’s maybe a third back. Now all the residents, all the homeowners, not all of them have come back. They’ve sold and moved elsewhere, but those of us who are bound and determined to stay and the new people who are coming in seem very strongly motivated.
Yeah, I see that determination to not let the storm take everything away from them. It’s taken too much away already.
What about New Orleans East?
It’s sections .. the Vietnamese community is awesome, absolutely awesome. I used to live in that neighborhood years ago when I first came here… They are just so determined and so family oriented… And see I have no family here.
So its harder for you.
It is harder for me but I have the greatest neighbors in the world… It’s not going to be the same and it’s not going to come back fast.
People are constantly clamoring, “why isn’t more being done?” Well a lot of people are waiting for government whereas a lot of people myself included and excuse my French, no I’ll do it nice. To heck with the government let’s do what we can with what we have. Which is what we have done. Unfortunately I got set back because of my husband’s illnesses. He just passed away in March. And I count him as a Katrina victim. Even though it’s two years, almost a year and a half, or so later that he passed away. You know? Just the strain and the stress… He had two month old sores on his legs when we got out. We climbed… over that trestle [down there] he and myself and a seventy eight year old neighbor. And we got to the other side of the trestle and no one was there. Then a pick-up truck stopped, stolen. They were good Samaritans and asked us where we were going and we said to UNO.
The deleterious effects of Katrina on health is one of the most under reported stories to come out of Katrina. Apparently, storms and devastation like this always cause a major blow to the psyche and that hurts everything else in your body, but the effects of Katrina go way beyond getting wiped out in a storm. The abandonment, isolation and depression caused by the aftermath of the storm and the difficulties rebuilding and returning to one’s community are much more prolonged and sustained than a catastrophic event like a flood, hurricane or earthquake would normally be. The storm claimed thousands of lives all over the Gulf Coast, add Carol, Eva’s beloved husband, to that tally.
And that’s one thing I have stuck in my craw. No one; none of the media has ever said anything about the hundreds of people who made their way to UNO. And were then evacuated out of there. I have talked to journalist and other media and they say, “we don’t know why.” [throws her hands up with wide eyes] but there wasn’t the sensationalism that was going on at the Dome and the Convention Center.
I didn’t understand what Eva was trying to tell me here. I thought that she was trying to tell me that UNO was a nightmare, but that is not the case. UNO was a shelter that worked for its evacuees and apart from an understandable “freak out” here and there the workers at the shelter and the citizens at the shelter never suffered the way people did at the Dome. Those two shelters were too far away for the people of new Orleans east to reach. They relied on shelters of first resort closer to their communities and many of those shelters worked very well for their evacuees who fled the flooding after the levees broke.
We got there on Thursday and there had already been people there for days before that… We had one little incident where someone got a little …
Freaked out yeah, other than that the people were well behaved and my heroes are the workers, the actual workers at UNO. They stayed. They kept everybody organized and fed. The military came in and of course dropped water but I have yet to eat an MRE…
We get interrupted as the event begins and I would like to thank Eva so much for speaking with me that night. I would like us all to remember that Carol, her husband, is no longer with us because of the lingering . Eva also e-mailed me that she finally got her Road Home money and though she’s not going to blow her check on the frivolous things in life she is planning on purchasing a butter yellow leather love seat for her newly remodeled home in her neighborhood.
Thank you again Eva and Jennifer for speaking to a crazy guerrilla vlogger on the levee that night. It was very educational.
I hope you enjoy it Eva:
Rest comfortably in your rebuilt home.
A big Thank You from everyone I talked to down there goes out to all the volunteers that have come down to help gut and renovate houses. If you can’t make it down there yourself to do something then consider a donation to a good cause:
- Common Ground, Solidarity not Charity.
- Habitat for Humanity, Intl.
- New Orleans Survivor’s Council
- Volunteer Match for New Orleans
- ACORN of New Orleans
- Volunteers of America, Greater New Orleans.
- Emergency Communities
- Volunteer Opportunities in NOLA from The Wayward Episcopalian
Enjoy the viral inspired by the March trip:
All I Have – The NOLA Remix
It a grassroots effort to rebuild the city. Get involved. They need you now.