I spent much of this past weekend thinking about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I was thinking about the dangers of forgetting.
Five years ago, I spent the weekend in the company of Louisiana musicians, playing the music I love, and waiting for Katrina to make landfall. Although our friends lived south and west of New Orleans, they didn't escape completely. Hurricane Rita followed Katrina, later that month. It's easy to forget about that. (I wrote about this in yesterday's blog entry, and also on AolNews.)
Yesterday, I read a piece in the Sunday SF Chronicle. It was in the business section. New Orleans is "back" from the devastation, the headline assured us.
My husband and I made our first post-Katrina visit to New Orleans in the spring of 2009, shortly after Accordion Dreams came out. I did a bookstore reading. We stayed in one of our favorite guesthouses, a funky place in the Garden District.
We last visited New Orleans this past January. It was the anniversary of my very first trip to the city, the birthday that changed my life, all those years ago. My husband took me to that same fancy hotel in the French Quarter. (A splurge, but it was one of those birthdays that merits celebration.)
My conclusion: Yes, it is possible to visit New Orleans and have a good time. The tourist industry has come back. The French Quarter, after all, was left relatively undamaged by Katrina. But the guesthouse just off St. Charles Avenue still had visible storm damage.
The rest of the city? They are trying. But if you read past that headline in the SF Chronicle business section, they do acknowledge the difficult truth. The poorest residents of New Orleans were the hardest hit--and many of them have not returned. The Ninth Ward still hasn't been rebuilt. The black population has shrunk and the income gap between black and white has increased. Crime remains high.
It's good to be optimistic. But let's not pretend that the recovery is complete.
There are many worthwhile groups working to help the Gulf Coast recover. Here's one that's close to my heart:
Musician's Village, a Habitat for Humanity project in New Orleans' historic Ninth Ward.
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders