Presentation on Post Katrina New Orleans
March 2, 2006
Photo © Liz Carter
Liz Carter worked as a volunteer in New Orleans on two occasions between October and December 2005. She was there with the National Trust and the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. During a visit to Rome, she gave a presentation on her experience in what was left of the city after hurricane Katrina, which by chance fell almost 6 months to the day after the storm's landfall. [see the original announcement]
The presentation consisted of photos taken by Liz while in New Orleans as well as maps, satellite images and aerial photography to put things in context, along with her narration and accounts of her experience. As per Liz's request, the presentation was very "interactive." Those in attendance were encouraged to interrupt with questions, which they did from the start. There were some in attendance originally from New Orleans who were able to add to the discussion.
We learned about the difficulties facing residents trying to return to the city and rebuild their lives. It's a catch 22 situation, where the city will only provide services to neighborhoods with a certain number of returning residents and residents only willing to return if certain services are provided. At least half the city still has no power and FEMA will provide a trailer to park in front of your house while you work on it only if you have electricity.
The destruction produced an inconceivable amount of waste. We saw photos of the "refrigerator cemetery", literally acres of refrigerators to be disposed of, as well as an enormous two story high mountain of debris, which Liz explained had vanished and no one really knew where it had gone. There are also 30,000 abandoned cars in New Orleans.
We saw photos of the spray painted signs left on houses that had been searched and Liz explained what the symbols meant, which included the date, the responsible party and the number of bodies found. At times the signs were on the roof as the entire house was under water. Spray paint also became a way of communicating and we saw photos of messages from "thanks for feeding my cat" to those of a more political nature.
One part of the project Liz was involved with was to talk with residents but they soon learned that in some areas, there was no one to talk to. Liz spoke of the eerie feeling of walking through neighborhoods in absolute silence, no people, no birds, no animals. New Orleans is missing about 60% of its pre Katrina residents.
There are also companies taking advantage of the situation. Illustrating this were photos of signs offering to demolish your home, when perhaps demolition isn't the best answer in a city full of historic houses, as well as those offering to buy doors, windows and other architectural elements. This has led to the theft of parts of abandoned houses.
The city of New Orleans itself intended to demolish some houses, but they have, at least for now, been stopped by advocacy groups. The city has begun a process of "red tagging" houses, indicating that the building is not safe for occupancy, but not necessarily a demolition order. We saw a photo of a beautiful house with very little water damage that had been inexplicably "red tagged."
The presentation concluded with a series of maps, including the New Orleans diaspora, showing that most people had remained in the Gulf Coast area, obviously hoping to return, but many had also gone to far-flung areas of the country. There were maps showing the demographics of pre Katrina New Orleans as well as the city's plans for near term reconstruction. Here it was evident that areas home primarily to people of color were not a priority in the plans.
The final slide was "how to help." First on the list, was staying informed. Liz explained what had prompted her to initially create the presentation and give it to groups and also provided us with a list of the best sources for information on what is really happening in New Orleans. In addition to this was a list of community groups and non-profits working in New Orleans. [See information provided by Liz Carter below]
Though many of us had been following the story closely, we learned much about the situation and what people have been through and are still fighting against. Liz was able to give us a first hand account as well as provide those of us living outside the U.S. a sense of how this is being covered in the media.
Liz will be returning to New Orleans in late March 2006 with a group of graduate students from the University of Oregon. She has promised to send us an update.
[Information provided by Liz Carter]
HOW TO HELP GULF COAST COMMUNITIES
NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION www.nationaltrust.org/hurricane/
PRESERVATION RESOURCE CENTER OF NEW ORLEANS
The PRC is a private non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes the preservation New Orleans architecture and neighborhoods.
Hurricane Katrina Fund
Operation Comeback Fund
COMMON GROUND RELIEF
Common Ground Collective is a local, community-run organization offering assistance, mutual aid and support to New Orleans communities that have been historically neglected and underserved. Common Ground's teams of volunteers include: medical and health providers, aid workers, community organizers, legal representatives and people from all over with broad skills from all walks of life.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities.
LOUISIANA SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS
ANIMAL RESCUE NEW ORLEANS
STUDENT HURRICANE NETWORK
A national association of law students and administrators dedicated to providing long-term assistance to communities in the aftermath of hurricane destruction.
NEW ORLEANS MUSICIANS HURRICANE RELIEF FUND
The New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund is an independent 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to aiding New Orleans musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina and reviving the city’s unique musical culture. Founded by Benjamin and Sarah Jaffe of Preservation Hall, N.O.M.H.R.F. offers grants to leaders in the music community, extends financial assistance to New Orleans musicians of all genres, and helps connect musicians with instruments and gigs.
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Copyright © 2006 Stephanie Westbrook All rights reserved
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy