Saturday, September 18, 2010

Katrina, Five Years After

Amid the - forgive me - flood of media coverage marking the five year anniversary of Hurricance Katrina in late August, these three pieces caught my attention. Herewith:

On August 20th, Josh Levin, a Senior Editor at Slate in charge of the sports and technology sections, who hails from New Orleans, wrote an article called Five Years Later detailing how Katrina has both changed the city and his perception of his hometown. "While the storm did alter New Orleans' physical landscape, " Levin writes, "its effects have been as much internal as external. Katrina was a collective disaster endured in private, a tragedy that caused a rupture in time for every New Orleanian. Lives are now divided into pre-Katrina and post-Katrina segments, with everything after the hurricane connected to the stuff before it by a jagged line, if it's connected at all." This last point about pre- and post-Katrina absolutely rang true during my visit to New Orleans in March. If a local began to tell a story and the narrative stretched back to an event that occured before the storm, without fail the phrase "before Katrina" would emerge. This parallels how many New Yorkers segment a time "before 9/11," too.

Following the "jagged line" extending out to New Orleanians in the aftermath of Katrina, one finds this insightful piece by Nicole LaPorte, senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast, on the prevelance of divorces in the wake of the storm. As Katrina bore down, families and couples cobbled together plans to evacuate and prepare for exiles of undetermined length, "Katrina became a truth serum for a lot of folks," quotes Ray Cannata, a Presbyterian paster in New Orleans. If a relationship was rocky or lifeless (or both) pre-Katrina, it could hardly withstand the stress of this natural disaster. Simply put: physical separations caused by the storm made divorces less messy. As I read the piece, I began to think this is one of the more underreported outcomes of Katrina. It may well be, though LaPorte offers this reason: the large migration of people has made it difficult to pin down hard statistics on divorce patterns.

While the effects of Katrina, five years on, have been "as much internal as external," as Levin writes, massive public works and recovery projects have taken effect on the physical side. From Google Earth's fascinating Lat Long Blog comes a slideshow of aerial photos taken before and after the reconstruction of the Biloxi Bay Bridge, with time-stamped photos of the Lower Ninth Ward for good measure. As Google Earth team member and compiler of this slideshow, Kate Hurowtitz, writes, "these now-familiar images of the Lower Ninth Ward are no less heartbreaking today than they were when we first saw them." No less heartbreaking than the collage of photographs at the top of this page, taken in 2009, I'd hasten to add.

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