It is now a week since Katrina ripped apart one of my favourite cities in the US.
I have only spent a week in New Orleans, but I enjoyed it thoroughly when I attended The Special Event tradeshow in January 2001. So here are a few random thoughts on the current situation based on my experience of the city.
New Orleans has two nicknames – NOLA (the LA is the abbreviation of Louisiana); and The Crescent City, derived from the fact that the city sits in a crescent loop of the Mississippi River.
The population of NOLA is around 480,000, about the same as Canberra and Queanbeyan combined and the similar to the Gold Coast. In common with the Gold Coast much of the city is built on reclaimed land. Now image a cyclone coming in from the sea and flattening the Gold Coast like Tracy did to Darwin and all that reclaimed land flooding.
A lot has been heard about people being housed in the New Orleans Convention Centre and exhibition halls – this was the location for The Special Event. To get an idea of the size of the exhibition halls look at the Sydney or Melbourne exhibition centres and then imagine them stretching for a mile, that is how big the NO exhibition centre is.
So why am I so fond of a city that appears now to be a hotbed of anarchy? Well the CBD area of NOLA is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world, certainly in the US. This is due to it’s history as a shipping port and because it was initially a French colony.
The anarchy has come in from the poorer suburbs that surround the city, it is also the suburbs that have been most affected by the flooding. Apart from Canal Street (named because it used to be a canal) the remainder of the CBD and French quarter has remained mostly above the flooding.
While in New Orleans I chatted to a guy in an information centre and he gave me details of his website where he published his photos, poetry and a monthly ramble about life. His name is Leonard Earl Johnson and I’ve been reading his column every month since. He sends an alert whenever his column goes online, on 28th August his email arrived with this message “Hurricane Katrina approaches. This could be my last message out. What better to say, at such a time, as I'm in love with this song: Main Street Blues - (mp3), Red Stick Ramblers. Listen while watching Melanie Plesh's ten-cent slide show (below), and it feels like Berlin in the Twenties. Or New Orleans the last weekend before The Great Storm. LEJ”
A few days after Katrina hit I checked his site to look for news of my friend. At that stage his friends were posting messages of hope, then on the 3rd a message was posted to say he had got out and was in nearby Hammond. I commend the site for Leonard’s musings on his town and also for the messages on the forum with vivid descriptions of what was going on in the wake of the storm. www.lej.org
Some other links of interest
New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau www.neworleanscvb.com
www.NOLA.com the definitive New Orleans website hosted by THE TIMES-PICAYUNE - in particular checkout the webcam images frozen as the storm approached.