New Orleans hurricane disasters are who we are.
We met in the aftermath of Katrina, both giving speeches about race and recovery at a fair-housing conference. We attempted our first date during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, but the requisite preparations and family evacuations for Hurricane Gustav made it impossible to connect with each other. On our second date, at President Obama’s inauguration, we co-authored a commentary arguing that his election was possible because the televised suffering of Katrina survivors dramatically changed American public opinion toward President Bush and the Republican Party. We were in love by the time President Obama made his first presidential visit to New Orleans. We took the opportunity to write together again, claiming that the lessons of post-Katrina New Orleans offered a blue print for rebuilding our national economy.
That’s how nerd love works… at least in New Orleans.
Hurricane Isaac, by striking the Gulf Coast on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, reminds us that while some things have changed, much remains the same.
Much has changed for us. We are no longer dating; we are happily married. This time there were two sets of parents to evacuate. This time there was a fifth grader’s school schedule to consider. This time there were two houses to secure. There is the little shotgun in the 7th ward where we live; we just celebrated the full post-Katrina restoration of that home earlier this year. It stood strong in the storm. Across the street was the other home. It had been ravaged by Katrina and Gustav, but we’d just closed on it a few weeks ago, hoping to fully restore it and make it our home so our family would have room to grow. Isaac took it on Wednesday morning, exactly seven years after Katrina.
This time we could share the emotional despair and deferred dreams as never before.
But the changes since Katrina are not just personal. This is a different country. We have a Democrat in the White House. President Obama, working with Congress, has led the federal government in constructing a state-of-the-art federal levee and water pumping system to protect the New Orleans metropolitan area. This time, the levees held. And thank goodness they did: Katrina’s disastrous legacy is due mostly to the failure of the federal levees and subsequent flooding of 75 percent of historic New Orleans.
Still unchanged is the devastation and dashed hopes that are left in the hurricanes’ paths. Like Katrina, Isaac destroyed homes, separated families and left people stranded on rooftops. Our dream home, which had stood for more than 100 years, is gone. Even that loss is minimal compared to the massive losses of personal property and memories that so many of our neighbors in Plaquemines Parish have suffered.
Also unchanged is Republicans’ uncanny ability to demonstrate just how out of touch they are with the suffering on the Gulf Coast. Recalling President George W. Bush’s ignominious flyover seven years ago, Republicans partied and danced the night away in Tampa, Florida, voicing only fleeting concern for those in Hurricane Isaac’s path. But as most conservatives celebrated the Romney-Ryan government rollback ticket, one up and coming Republican leader rebutted a fundamental conservative premise.