Saturday, 4 September 2010
The Battle of New Orleans
Today I listened to "The Reunion". It's a series where people who've share an event or an experience are brought together to relive that event. This week the programme brought together five survivors who experienced Hurricane Katrina and its impact on them and New Orleans.
I was privileged ( that is not too strong a phrase) to listen to these five remarkable people. I had never before heard of Phyllis Montana LeBlanc - I subsequently discovered that she's probably the most famous black woman in the US. And for a very good reason. Her strength throughout that trauma sang out: no wonder she was the star of Spike Lee's "When the Leeves Broke".
The photographer Ted Jackson. He's now well known across the world. A local New Orleans journalist who became the photographic eye of the storm. He not only shone an steely objectivity on the scene of death, despair and hope, but also put his life at risk to save others. He described how he'd photographed this family struggling to keep their heads above water. Then he realised they were higher than the windows of their house standing on the porch railings to keep themselves above the water. How precarious/precious is life!
He must have lost his sense of self because he went where only the desperate, lost and despairing went and his photographs are amazing. They show stoicism, strength, helplessness and humour. All that defines us, brought out by an unthinking, unfeeling force of nature.
The military man, Russel L. Honoré. The general who whipped Katrina into shape, and through his actions showed up the federal bureaucracy for what it was. Ill prepared, floundering and arse covering.
I couldn't make out from his radio voice whether he was black or white. Now I know; he describes himself as African-American Creole", a mixture that includes French, African, American Indian and Spanish. A man who'd happily whip the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
Pastor Willie Walker of the happily name Noah's Ark Baptist Missionary Church who rescued hundreds and offered hope and comfort to so many. As he said no one could be better prepared for a flood than his church. Amazingly I learnt that the pastor's church was renovated/restored in the US's Extreme Makeover TV programme in 2008.
Finally, the manager of the Superdome, Doug Thornton. How this man managed to stay sane I'll never know. With the dome's roof torn away, thousands of displaced people - broken loos, little in the way of other facilities this sports venue became a shrine to people's power of redemption and an indictment of an administration that had lost its way. Capable of inflicting terrible harm and suffering on peoples on the other side of the world, but unable (some might say unwilling) to bring relief and comfort to the peoples of one of its most historic cities.