How does one react to visiting his or her hometown and seeing it in the condition New Orleans is in right now? The town is devastated, and the suburbs where people have returned en masse are barely functioning as well. Growing up in NOLA, one is used to the danger of hurricanes and one is continually reminded that life is made possible by the levee system. So the devastation comes as no surprise, though it is no less moving.
The future is perilously uncertain. Homes of many are still as they were abandoned nine months ago, people scarcely to be found in those neighborhoods. FEMA recently released base flood level estimates, so homeowners are now getting a better idea of the questionable condition of the levees and combining that with the work that will be required to rebuild. This leaves the question of whether business will return and whether livelyhoods will be maintainable unanswered.
The Army Corps of Engineers yesterday took responsiblity for the disaster for the first time, providing a bit of clarity to what happened last August (emphasis added):
"This is the first time that the Corps has had to stand up and say, `We've had a catastrophic failure,'" Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps chief, said as the agency issued a 6,000-page-plus report on the disaster on Day 1 of the new hurricane season...
Four breaches in canals that run through New Orleans were caused by foundation failures that were "not considered in the original design of these structures," the report said. Those breaches caused two-thirds of the city's flooding.
It's rather clear that the rest of America has already formed its own conclusions, and that this information will not serve to increase the amount of empathy the average citizen has for residents of New Orleans. Many in New Orleans are aware of this, but like some members of my family, appear oblivious to the idea that the future may not simply "return to normal," and that they may be forced to make other arrangements.
It's also interesting to note that despite the "catastrophic failure," the areas that flooded were mainly those populated after about 1875, when the technology allowed the swamps to be drained. The dry core of the city--the "sliver by the river"--isn't immune to hurricane damage, but isn't as dangerously at risk.