Why We Tremble
Hurricane Isaac is on the charts and damn near every New Olreanian is a bit bonkers about it. And superficially there seems really to be only one reason why: Katrina. That bitch.
But is that all that’s going on? Some sort of weird Post Dramatic Stress Syndrome for those of us that went through Katrina? Are we just branded now to see the Cone of Uncertainty and have a Pang of Nausea?
I think it’s more than that.
I am 42 years old. And I’ve lived every one of those forty-two years in Louisiana and Florida. Hurricanes are a part of my life just as fishing camps, hot Christmases, and Mardi Gras. I have been through more hurricanes than I can count. I have evacuated for one: Katrina. Well, two. After Katrina, when Sun was a year old, we evacuated for Gustav, swearing never to do it again.
Growing up, New Orleanians didn’t evacuate. We put masking tape on our windows, filled tubs with water, and hunkered down. And that did the trick.
But in these past forty-two years, a lot has changed. And these changes have allowed for the “perfect storm” that was Katrina:
1. We’ve built out all of our suburbia. When I was little, the backyard of my grandparents’ house in River Ridge was woods. Deer would walk to the back door. Now? That whole wood, and miles of other green space, is developed and paved. It’s all filled now with neat rows of houses all over the land. All the drainage that used to go to these green spaces? Gone. Now all that water goes to canals protected by levees. Levees that, we learned the hard way, will fail us.
2. We’ve lost acres of wetlands. A football field of Louisiana wetlands an hour is currently being lost. And that’s been going on for years. YEARS of loss of our protective barrier. New Orleans is quickly becoming the face of America’s Wetlands.
3. We’re far more dependent on electricity than ever before. Forty years ago, we needed electricity in a storm for air conditioning and our beloved deep freezer. These days we are addicted to our cell phones, tablets, laptops, Tivos, Nooks, etc. It MATTERS now more than ever when we go “off the grid.”
Katrina opened our eyes for the first time in at least forty years. We are vulnerable. Naked. Dependent. And, when a storm starts to form that elliptical shape and heads to the Gulf, we are scared. And too proud to want to admit how scared we are. How scared to the core we are in a way we have never feared before. It isn’t about being inconvenienced; about losing electricity and going off that grid. It’s about losing our identity; our city; ourselves.
So, please, pardon us in the Gulf as we freak the hell out watching what wouldn’t have been cause for concern forty, or even eight, years ago; as we re-assess our lives, our existence, our significance to these United States of America; as we get a few post-Katrina storms under our belt and learn to “live through a storm” again as we’ve done for centuries; as we face the loss of our innocence in a real and all too palpable way.
Scary, isn’t it?