Reading the chapter in Sister Citizen made me realize how ignorant I am regarding the dealings during and afterwards regarding Hurricane Katrina. After it was mentioned during class, I became curious and decided to watch the documentary “When the Levees Broke” about Hurricane Katrina. Whilst watching the documentary, I couldn’t help but think that the residents of New Orleans were set up to fail way before Katrina hit. For example, FEMA had simulated a fictitious level 5 hurricane to see what would happen to New Orleans and the conclusion was that the city did not have the resources or infrastructure against such a powerful storm. They identified a large population of people without vehicles, as well as a large homeless and disabled population in New Orleans, meaning that many people would not be able to evacuate in the case of disasters. The results of this test were ignored by many agencies. They started to build the levees in 1965 but it was still not finished at the time when Katrina hit, due to reasons of high cost. Even before times of crisis, New Orleans was neglected. According to one of the speakers in the documentary, Hurricane Katrina went east and what had broke the two main levees protecting New Orleans was actually a category 1 force, not the full category 5 of the storm. From an economic point of view, it would have costed way less to build levees to protect the town and its citizens then the financial costs of the aftermath of the storm. What irks me is that this further emphasizes the carelessness of the engineers who built the infrastructure and the lack of concern for the citizens’ safety.
Comparisons were drawn between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Betsy in 1927. What had happened in 1927 was that the levees were blown up via dynamite which caused the whole city of be flooded. In 2004 during the storm, some of the victims said that they heard explosions, and thought that the levees breaking had been intentional. However, the reality of what happened remains unclear.
It was difficult imagining this while reading Sister Citizen, but seeing the documentary broke my heart. I cannot believe the actual footage that was shown about people hanging on to whatever they could during the flood while waiting for help. Many lives were also lost due to the failure to provide help immediately and inefficient resources. There was footage of five children standing on the steps of their flooded home waiting for help. When asked if there was an adult with them, it was revealed that their mother had passed away inside the house due to breathing difficulties. There was another footage of a man who had to find a sheet to cover his mother who had passed away, and he wrote down her name, his name, and phone number on a piece of paper and placed it on her lap in order to make sure that his mother’s body didn’t get neglected in the midst of chaos.
Watching this documentary reinforced the failure of treating people of color, especially African Americans, as human beings that deserve basic rights. As depressing as it was learning about the devastating consequences of the storm, it is also very important to show the heartbreak that all of the victims had to go through as opposed to only seeing the media portray them as looters and criminals. I feel ashamed that more people don’t know the reality of what the victims had to go through, and I especially feel ashamed that more wasn’t done for these people.