Author: Melissa Rudberg
Three years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustav threatened to turn back the progress made in rebuilding New Orleans. On Sept 2, Gustav hit land about 70 miles Southwest of New Orleans and died down to a Category 2 by the time it hit New Orleans.
Gustav is responsible for the deaths of 18 people in Louisiana. Almost half of the state is without power, roughly 800,000 homes. Water and food are also scarce. The evacuation was the largest in U.S. history (almost 2 million people), and though it went smoothly, few have been able to return. In New Orleans only 10,000 decided not to evacuate out of a population of 300,000. Those too poor to leave on their own, estimated to be 30,000, were assisted by the city in evacuation.
The response by the local and federal government was much swifter than three years ago. The improved response has been documented by sectors of the media, who cite massive Army and National Guard deployment and food and water available for distribution. However, many worried that the levies, which have only been 25 percent rebuilt, would not hold. The governor of New Orleans also instituted a dusk to dawn curfew, promising to throw looters in jail.
The rebuilding of New Orleans is an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of many students and faculty as Oxy. Politics Professor Caroline Heldman has done a lot of work in New Orleans, having taken five classes of Oxy students (approximately 150 students) to New Orleans to aid in relief effort, and directing the New Orleans Women’s shelter. Many Oxy students have also been to New Orleans to volunteer on their own.
The students and volunteers’ work varies. Their main function used to be gutting houses, but now the focus is going to be on rebuilding, working in conjunction with Making it Right, Brad Pitt’s organization devoted to helping those in the lower 9th ward. Heldman noted that volunteers also help with the “Women’s Shelter, volunteering with kids, planting trees in the wetlands, helping local residents organize around public housing issues, bio-remediation houses [killing the mold and toxins] and performing upkeep on houses in the L9 [lower 9th ward] to make sure the city doesn’t take land from locals.” Heldman will be taking her class, “Disaster Politics: New Orleans in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina,” to the city this winter break.
A group on campus called Rebirth held an event on Friday, Aug. 29 commemorating the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Emily Jensen (junior), who is on the board of the group, said that the goal of the event was to raise awareness about the problems since Katrina because “there is not a lot in the news about New Orleans.”
Students at the event read facts and statistics, sang songs dedicated to victims and volunteers and showed video clips and documentaries. Four girls read a poem which used layered language to make statements about New Orleans, calling it “the vagina of the United States,” where everyone goes to play, but forgets about when she is in trouble. The poem hints at the need to rebuild the city, which has been neglected, and is currently a subject of debate.
Jensen said that although a lot of people do not think New Orleans should rebuild, the students wanted “to put a face on the debate.” The students who spoke and performed portrayed New Orleans as a city containing a unique, artistic culture that should not be neglected anymore. A concern about the approaching Gustav was expressed.
Rebirth is in the process of organizing a relief drive for the victims of Hurricane Gustav. They say that although “the storm inflicted much less damage than expected, there is still great need for food and supplies in affected areas.” They will be asking for nonperishable foods, hygiene supplies/toiletries, water, cooking utensils and gift cards for Home Depot, Lowes, and Walmart.
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