Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hurricane Katrina's Third Anniversary and Tales of Lingering Storm Phobia

links to hurricane katrina anniversary poem
I've observed the phenomenon of Katrina survivors fleeing public places at the first sign of rain, and heard others testify to the potency of hurricane phobia. Folks see rain, hear thunder, get a glimpse of lightning and dark clouds here and they bolt for the doors, anxious to get home, hug their children, batten down, and make sure the world is safe.

One woman told me of a day not too long ago on her job, where she works as a customer service supervisor, that she and others demanded that higher management let them leave early as a thunder storm appeared to worsen outside. She lives in Bogolusa, La., and many of her co-workers lived in the Covington area and other pockets of St. Tammany Parish, parts of which flood even after storms not as strong as hurricanes.

"They can't be doing that to us. Keeping us here. They know what we went through. If it looks bad outside, I've got to go. I've got to leave and see about my children," she said this to me, and three other women standing near nodded their heads in agreement. "The sky gets dark with rain. We've got to go." And so, they walked out.

It's that time of year again, hurricane season. Okay, we've been in hurricane season for a while now, but this is the first time I've written on it this year and it's a bigger deal down here now since Hurricane Katrina than it used to be, which is one of the first changes I noticed in Louisiana human behavior when I moved back after 20-plus years.

The television stations started giving out free "hurricane preparation" books in May, I think, that anyone can pick up at local stores. At websites, in newspapers, and on television, each storm swirling in the Gulf gets analyzed and re-analyzed like it will morph into Godzilla and then sprout wings.

WDSU TV has a special hurricane section. WWLTV too. And here are links to WGNO's section as well as WVUE's, which by the way sucks as does their whole website. The Times Picayune's website also has big spreads on breaking weather news.

Tropical storm Fay is being watched closely. She's headed to Florida and already the Governor has declared a state of emergency, reports WDSU TV. Fay left four dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, say news sources.

The city watches each storm brewing as it prepares for the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina devastating the Gulf Coast. New Orleans flooded on August 29, 2005. WWL TV is continuing its Katrina Bells commemoration. The Picayune reported earlier that the third anniversary has brought "a new wave of books." Passionate Eater, a food blogger and former resident of California who now lives in New Orleans has a post up with pictures and reflections on the upcoming third anniversary. And a TV station reports that Mayor Nagin plans a low-key commemoration on this third anniversary.

Low key events or not. If you live here you see that you can't hide the effects of Katrina. Many houses remain empty, gutted monuments to the flood's destruction and population losses. You hear stories of children who tremble and can't sleep during thunder storms. You see the people who fidget and finger their car keys whenever lighting cracks or the horizon darkens with brooding clouds. My sister-in-law, who works in retail, said it's different down here when it rains. "Everywhere else I've worked in the country, people come into the stores when it starts raining. Here they leave," she said.

It's always been different down here--the food, the music, the Mardi Gras balls and ghost stories--but now there are people here who once shrugged off hurricane season, chuckled at rolling thunder, and whistled through their daily chores while storms passed over who instead fall down and pray, pop pills the doctor gave them, down shots of bourbon, or cuss out their bosses with gusto all to endure the gloom and rumblings of a stormy day. You wonder why they stay? They love life in this Crescent City and its surrounding parishes. They gaze at the spot where a storm changed their lives and chant with Dorothy, "There's no place like home."

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