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Remembering Katrina

5 years ago yesterday, Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed the American Gulf Coast.

A year after the flood waters had receded, New Orleans was still a ghost town.  I walked alone through the famed Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, along what used to be a paved residential street.

Most houses had been completely washed away.  Those that still stood– in some mangled form– bore bright orange symbols spray-painted by search teams to indicate things like check date and body count.

This was my first visit to the place that had been dubbed in less harrowing times the “Big Easy.” I was anything but at ease.

In fact I still find it difficult to describe the goings on in my head and heart as I passed heaps of brick, abandoned cars, and makeshift front yard graves.  It was a combination of awe and soul-wrenching sorrow so heavy that all I could think about was leaving.

But I couldn’t.  New Orleans hadn’t been our destination, but Meadow and I ended up staying there three days longer than we had planned.   It was in our blood now.

I left the politics of Katrina to the pundits when I wrote my Dispatches from the Gulf Coast series.  Instead, I focused on my own apolitical observations during that road trip.  I haven’t been back since, so I don’t know how everything looks today.  No matter– my impressions of that region will always be colored by that first visit.

Below is a video montage I put together a few years ago of the trip.  It’s choppy and of sub-par quality (I think it was my first attempt at video editing), but I thought it a good day to re-post it.

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Posted by on August 30, 2010 in American South, Video

 

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Google Street View provides poignant Ninth Ward update

Thankfully, Hurricane Gustav weakened Sunday night, hitting southwestern Louisiana as a category 2 hurricane.  The levees held and New Orleans dodged another bullet.  Good.

I got a call from my friend Rhonda yesterday morning.  She and her family had returned to their home in Slidell the night before and were happy to discover no damage.  Her feelings about the way things were handled for Gustav?  

“Triumphant.”

After seeing the post-Katrina clip montage I posted last Sunday- specifically a clip that I cut away from after panning to a street sign for geographical reference- Tyler Slack got curious and did a little investigating with the help of Google Street View.  

In that clip I filmed a location on Forstall Street in Lower Ninth Ward.  The clip showed the stairs of a front porch, the only remains of a house just blocks away from one of the breached levees, which had been completely washed away.  On the steps to nowhere was a small stuffed panda bear.   

Tyler dropped me a note early this morning with a link to the latest Google Street View images of that same house.  According to Street View’s last pass- which looks recent- the panda bear still lies on that porch, though now a couple steps down from where it was when I filmed it.

The selected area is magnified in the square to the right

While it’s sad to see that little has changed (as far as rebuilding) at that location, I was happy to see that little panda bear.  

Rewind to that September day in 2006.  My wife had dropped me off in the Lower Nine, which was still completely deserted.  Nothing but the occasional salvage vehicle and National Guard humvees.  Aside from the almost overwhelming cicada screech (which oddly wasn’t really picked up by my camera’s mic) the entire neighborhood was completely silent.

I walked down Jourdan, Deslonde, and Tennessee (none of which were identifiable), then Forstall, where I spotted that wagon and the teddy bear.  The site epitomized the overall feeling, which was indescribable: heavy, ghostly sorrow mixed with awe of nature’s power.  As I mentioned in my first post-Katrina article, the floodwaters had receded a year prior, but it might as well have been yesterday.

I’ve often thought about that teddy bear- whose it was- how it lays there, mildewed and abandoned in the quiet.  I wonder if where that child whose teddy bear it was is now- if he or she remembers that bear.  I’ve always kinda hoped the child- now three years older- would someday return to find it. 

There was no way I could identify which house that was.  Google shows the approximated address as 2112 Forstall, but tracking down the owner would be quite a task.  I left the bear where it was.  Thankfully, so has everybody else.  If you happen to be wandering down Forstall Street in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, please do me a favor- let that panda be.

The panda bear at 2112 Forstall Street as I discovered it in September, 2006 (photo by Clint Thomsen)

 

 

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