10/05/2005

Louisiana Weekly - The Mysteries of New Orleans - 24 questions about the 'Murder of the Big Easy'

The Mysteries of New Orleans - 24 questions about the 'Murder of the Big Easy'

By Mike Davis and Anthony Fontenot, Guest Columnists
October 3, 2005 talkback

We recently spent a week in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana interviewing relief workers, community activists, urban planners, artists, and neighborhood folks. Even as the latest flood waters from Hurricane Rita recede, the city remains submerged in anger and frustration.

Indeed, the most toxic debris in New Orleans isn't the sinister gray sludge that coats the streets of the historic Creole neighborhood of Treme or the Lower Ninth Ward, but all the unanswered questions that have accumulated in the wake of so much official betrayal and hypocrisy. Where outsiders see simple "incompetence" or "failure of leadership," locals are more inclined to discern deliberate design and planned neglect-the murder, not the accidental death, of a great city. In almost random order, here are twenty-five of the urgent questions that deeply trouble the local people we spoke with. Until a grand jury or congressional committee begins to uncover the answers, the moral (as opposed to simply physical) reconstruction of the New Orleans region will remain impossible.

1. Why did the floodwalls along the 17th Street Canal only break on the New Orleans (majority Black) side and not on the Metairie (largely white) side? Was this the result of neglect and poor maintenance by New Orleans authorities?

2. Who owned the huge barge that was catapulted through the wall of the Industrial Canal, killing hundreds in the Lower Ninth Ward-the most deadly hit-and-run accident in U.S. history?

3. All of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish east of the Industrial Canal were drowned, except for the Almonaster-Michoud Industrial District along Chef Menteur Highway. Why was industrial land apparently protected by stronger levees than nearby residential neighborhoods?

4. Why did Mayor Ray Nagin, in defiance of his own official disaster plan, delay twelve to twenty-four hours in ordering a mandatory evacuation of the city?

5. Why did Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff not declare Katrina an "Incident of National Significance" until August 31 - thus preventing the full deployment of urgently needed federal resources?

6. Why wasn't the nearby U.S.S. Bataan immediately sent to the aid of New Orleans? The huge amphibious-landing ship had a state-of-the-art, 600-bed hospital, water and power plants, helicopters, food supplies, and 1,200 sailors eager to join the rescue effort. ...

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