Peter M. Wolf
MY NEW ORLEANS, GONE AWAY
the city I’d left forty-two years before, had returned to so often,and still called home?
Early Monday morning.
Katrina slams New Orleans. With sustained winds of seventy-five miles per hour, she’s aserious but not ferocious hurricane. The levees appear to hold: water, wind, and rain damage is relatively light.
Everything changes. Due to catastrophicstructural failure, weak sections of the 350-mile-long leveesystem cave along the Industrial Canal, the Seventeenth StreetCanal, and the London Avenue Canal. Water pours into the 80percent of the city below sea level. The city’s pumps, inundated,fail. “The bowl” fills up. First two feet, then higher and higher—in some areas water reaches above mantelpieces; in extremecases it rises as high as fourteen feet. Fetid water mixed with oil,trash, and sewage stagnates; the air above turns rancid.
The rank, water-filled city is isolated: electricity,phone, and cable lines are out. No medical service is available.People die, at least a thousand. Others chop through roofs andawait rescue. Entire parts of town are now destroyed. Mold begins to flourish. A third of the population becomes homeless.The storm’s aftermath will be recognized as the worst civilengineering disaster in U.S. history.
Along with people all over the world, I am evermore saddened by the area-wide human hardship, the physicalchaos, the manifest government ineptitude. For six generationsmy family has been at home in New Orleans. At peril suddenly are relatives, friends, cherished neighborhoods, a unique blendof cultures, a landscape that I love, and a long family history inone place. Parts of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that shaped