Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rolling on the River: It will be 10 more years before New Orleans is safe

I'm back from my incredible journey through the bayous of Louisiana with the American Indian Movement's Sacred Run. We did a lot of walking, a lot of running and a lot of roofing. Roofing? Yep.

There are still thousands of soggy roofs in the Mississippi delta area. New Orleans' Ninth Ward alone is a roofer's dream. This area is the only place I know where the phrase "I'm going to give you shingles" causes people's faces to light up.

Today our intrepid little band of walkers and runners set off from the Superdome, heading east toward Poplarville, MS via New Orleans' tragic Ninth Ward. Me and my son Joe had driven through the Ninth Ward yesterday and we knew what they would see. Our walkers will be trudging through acre after acre, block after block and mile after mile of "abandoned" homes. There are NO people there. It looks like a ghost town.

Meanwhile I trudged off to the Louis Armstrong International Airport, sitting in the boarding lounge eating leftover muffaletas and reading the Times Picayune. Seven months after Katrina, the newspaper's top headlines still dealt with the aftermath of that storm.

"Drainage improvement and upgrades in blocking [future storm surges] -- such as hurricane gates at the mouths of drainage canals in Orleans Parish -- are part of the [new floodplain plan]...."


I sat next to a floodplain expert on my flight home. He said, "It will be another ten years before the Mississippi floodplain will be under control. Sure, people can build on it but for the NEXT TEN YEARS, they will be taking a risk." That's dangerous.

George Bush just spent over 400 billion dollars on reducing a mythological danger to America alledgedly coming from Iraq. On the other hand, this levee catastrophe is a real danger that effects the safety of MILLIONS of Americans. We shoulda spent our $400,000,000,000 on that!

Then the person sitting on the other side of me on my flight home jumped into the conversation. "Speaking of flood gates, they had flood gates for Katrina."

"Really? I didn't know that."

"Yeah. When the water started rising, they blew a hole in the levee so it would flood the Ninth Ward instead of somewhere else." Ah. An improvised flood gate. I'd heard that people had heard explosions before the levee failed but I hadn't realized that that was the reason they blew it up. I wonder who got to decide who was to live and who was to die?

Then the guy in the seat behind us chimed in. "Mississippi got hit even harder than New Orleans. I just got done doing some roofing in Waveland."

If Abraham Lincoln or George Washington were our President today, they wouldn't be out adventuring in some hell-hole half-way across the world. They'd be down on the bayous, trying to help get the roofs fixed.