Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

September 5th, 2005

Precious and Precarious

I made the decision late Sunday that we didn't need to run.

As an only child, I am responsible for my 78-year-old mother too, and base many such decisions on those circumstances. But no, the path of Hurricane Katrina was extremely rigid, the trough coming from the west had stalled over and to the east of us. I would wake all night every couple of hours to be sure, but I didn't believe we were in danger. Of course, we were not.

Monday we got some pretty stiff winds in the 40-60 mph range and some rain. We even published a newspaper that day. By then, of course, we knew where Katrina had gone but there wasn't much news coming out of the impact area.

Like the rest of the nation when the news did start coming we were appalled. I had my girlfriend and her family nearby, evacuees from the tremendous swath of Katrina's path, a wake that stretched from Houma, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama. There were half a dozen more family members I had not heard a word from. I would not learn they were safe until nearly the end of the week.

The evacuees started rolling in Sunday, and by Friday there were thousands in my county, St. Mary Parish. As always, the people here snapped into action to make them welcome, comfortable and taken care of. Police were doing warrants checks on all who entered shelters. Two people were in fact told to keep moving based on those checks. We were taking no chances. Baggage was checked. You cannot be too safe, but I am proud to say that if we only sent two people on their way out of thousands, we have done good.

The horror of what unfolded in the New Orleans area cannot be equaled. Yet we keep hearing people saying they never thought they'd see such a thing in their lifetimes, and I am left to marvel at how easily we humans imitate the ostrich, sticking our heads in the sand. Since at least 1965, when Hurricane Betsy flooded the city, we have been painfully aware of the vulnerability of that national treasure, New Orleans. But when New Orleans was founded by Sieur de Bienville in 1718, his engineers strongly advised against building a city there. New Orleans has lived on the precipice of danger and disaster for nearly 300 years.

It's all about that mightiest of rivers, the Mississippi. Perhaps the most important economic, cultural and strategic point on the entire continent, the city's position at the mouth of the Mississippi River makes New Orleans what it is. That precarious bargain with nature, a vow sometimes broken on both sides, has led to New Orleans' unique culture. People living on the brink of disaster foster and nurture a love for life, for hard work and hard play. New Orleans epitomizes that manifestation.

Can New Orleans be rebuilt? Should it be rebuilt? While people were still dying on rooftops and in attics the debate began. It's really not a question worth debating: New Orleans will be rebuilt, it will rebuild itself no matter how much senators and congressmen and presidents and pundits wring their hands over it. The unknowns remain how it will be rebuilt, and where. The massive oil conduits at Port Fourchon, the incredible capabilities and value of the Port of New Orleans are not going anywhere, and there will always be a need for a support system nearby. It's doubtful that the feds will allow building in "the bowl" again, and even if they do, insurance companies will never write another policy.

What has come out of all this, then, that will be most debated in the future? I believe and I hope and pray that it will be the vulnerability. That a Category 4/5 storm struck New Orleans and the nation will feel the shock waves for months or years to come.

That should bring in the next important debates: Restoring the barrier islands, the buffer zones of marsh, the sediment flow of the Mississippi. It's all about the river, remember? And then that discussion should spread out across the entire gulf coast, and we should finally, as a nation FINALLY, understand what coastal loss means. Never mind New Orleans' position in "the bowl." The northbank cities were not in "the bowl" and neither was Biloxi. Our coast has to be protected for benefit of the entire nation.

One more thing. Please give all of us Louisianans a break. When Hurricane Ivan ripped across Florida, we didn't sit back shaking out heads and criticizing that people should know better than to live there, that they should have had the sense to get out, that my tax dollars are now going to have to bail Florida out again. When Mt. St. Helens blew, we didn't wave our fingers in reproach for the choice people made in living there. When earthquakes hit Los Angeles, we don't grunt and say, "I told you so." Please stop kicking us while we're down. We've been kicked enough for now.

And don't forget, America: You have needed us for all these decades. You needed us to take care of the oil going to your refineries, the grains you sold overseas, the imports we brought into the port and you bought at Starbucks or Saks Fifth Avenue. We've been here, making our bargain with the river, breaking it and having it broken, for 300 years. We've been here, and today all Louisianans are New Orleanians, and today we're all in this together. We don't want it to be us versus the rest of the country. New Orleans was more than Mardi Gras and Jackson Square, luscious aromas from great stainless steel cooking pots, French Quarter musicians and the Superdome.

New Orleans existed because American needed it to exist. Now we need your support and compassion and help to show that it was worth the gamble. Lots of us lost that wager and paid the debt with our homes, jobs, and in thousands of cases our lives. ~ Roger

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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