It's heartbreaking to see the pictures coming out of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, both for the suffering of the people and the damage to so many special places. I know them both well, because I grew up in New Orleans.
As a tyke I lived out by the lake (as we called it) in a 1920s urbanist paradise of neighborhoods designed so kids could range on miles of winding sidewalks and never have to cross a street. It was built in a drained swamp on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. It's under water once again.
Then we moved Uptown, to the streetcar suburbs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, avenues of magnificent mansions with more modest side streets running into them. Once separate towns, they blended into a string of neighborhoods spreading out along a great bend in the river, on former plantations that spoked out from the Mississippi. The plantations were there because they had river access, but also because centuries of flooding had left behind a rich soil that also made it higher than the land farther away. Those neighborhoods haven't flooded as badly as others.
I mourn for the people out by the lake and in the Lower Ninth Ward and Mid City who are now flooded, homeless, not knowing when they can return or what they'll find when they do.
And I am angry once again at our national leadership, who knew that some year, someday, this hurricane was coming, yet over the last six years chose to cut and gut the programs that would have made New Orleans safer. We wrote about it last year in our story about how terrorism concerns erased progress made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in mitigating the effects of natural disasters (www.indyweek.com/durham/2004-09-22/cover.html).
And as the rich have their taxes cut and the rest of us pay for the agony in Iraq, American Progress, a progressive Web site (www.americanprogress.org), reports that two months ago, the Bush administration cut a record $71.2 million from the New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, shelving a study of how to protect the city from a Category 5 storm. The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Web site (the best place to find out what's happening: www.nola.com/newslogs/ breakingtp) reports that Bush recently declined to take an aerial tour with the governor of damaged wetlands and a ship channel through them that, if restored, could reduce a hurricane's effects.
So my heart is with New Orleans and its people. As they have for nearly 300 years, I know they will survive. But I have no sympathy for the selfish, reckless leaders of this country who care so much less.