There are probably many people that would have loved to move away from NO or
southern Louisiana; a lot of them probably knew that the possibility of
disaster was there.
But most poor people don't have a choice of where to live.
This was published in National Geographic in October of 2004. The full
text of the article is available at
It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big
Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if
they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to
the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams"
warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there:
Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as
hangovers on Ash Wednesday.
But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city.
As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million
people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however-the
car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New
Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.
The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a
deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top
of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over.
Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level-more than eight
feet below in places-so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed
over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the
Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District,
until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like
the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters)
over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.
Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage
and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later
perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It
took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was
buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were
homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the
history of the United States.
When did this calamity happen? It hasn't-yet. But the doomsday scenario
is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a
hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the
nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist
attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane
shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.