Two years ago today Hurricane Katrina was moving north in the Gulf of Mexico just two days away from teasing New Orleans with a near miss before swamping the city in her wake. Photographer David Spielman stayed for the storm and in the three months that followed his e-mails and pictures told the story of New Orleans’ struggle to survive. Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports.
David Spielman rode out the storm to care for the St. Clare’s Monastery after the sister evacuated to Texas. He stayed in contact with friends through e-mails and soon realized that what was happening to his city was more devastating than anyone could have imagined. His poignant photographs and candid e-mails have been published as “Katrinaville Chronicles”. He says recovery has been slow, perhaps unavoidably slow given the circumstances.
“Maybe, just maybe we’re not supposed to recover in two years. You’ve got to remember that 85% of the city was flooded, and a good percentage of that was flooded for over 30-days. When a hurricane hits most other places the water comes and the water goes out and then you start rebuilding.”
But for low lying New Orleans, that was not the case.
“We were hit by three things; the hurricane which we actually survived, it went a little bit to the east but we a had a major levee system failure and then for brief period of time anarchy.”
Spielman says that the federal government must play a major role in recovery because there are just not the local resources to get the job done, however he says too many Louisiana’s rely too much on Washington.
“If you historically look at the Chicago Fire or the San Francisco Earthquake; heck there wasn’t FEMA. How did those cities do that, how did they come back more beautiful then they were before those catastrophic events?”
He says the difference is that civic leaders stepped up and got the job of rebuilding done. Spielman says for too long voters have been electing people more interested in what they can get than what they can give.
“We need to raise the bar. We need to say we are not going to tolerate this low level of productivity, honesty and things like that. We need to be more vigilant because they represent us.”
Because of the level of devastation, the state of politics both locally and nationally, Spielman, while very optimistic, says New Orleans still has a very long way to go.
“We still have a way to drop. We have certainly not turned the corner. We’ve got infrastructure issues, we’ve got businesses that continue to leave, but you know New Orleans isn’t going to go away.”
He says the loss of population, especially professionals and their tax base, continues to affect the city, but while there is a void something will fill it.
“And it’s my sincere hope that it’s positive and I think it will be because the city is unique, it’s got great potential and we need to fight for it.”
You can hear the complete interview with David Spielman at kuhf.org.