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Hurricane Gustav Slams Louisiana: A Report from Jordan Flaherty in New Orleans

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Hurricane Gustav slammed the US Gulf Coast just west of New Orleans on Monday but has now weakened to a tropical depression. According to the National Hurricane Center, Gustav remains a flood threat as it moves over central Louisiana. Forecasters also warn that another storm, Hurricane Hanna, could hit the Gulf Coast by midweek. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


Just going south now to New Orleans, as we’re at the top of the Mississippi River, we go to the bottom. Hurricane Gustav slammed the US Gulf Coast just west of New Orleans on Monday but is now weakened to a tropical depression. According to the National Hurricane Center, Gustav remains a flood threat as it moves over central Louisiana. Forecasters also warn that another storm, Hurricane Hanna, could hit the Gulf Coast by midweek.

The levees in New Orleans did not break but were severely tested by the storm surge. No one has died in New Orleans, but seven people were reportedly killed in car accidents and by falling trees in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. More than a million people across Louisiana are without power.

Meanwhile, the two million people who left New Orleans might not be able to return before Wednesday. Mayor Ray Nagin said reentry is only a matter of days but added anyone besides essential city workers and utility employees caught trying to reenter today will be turned away.

The mainstream media and public officials continue to praise the government’s response to Gustav, but voices on the ground tell a different story. Independent journalist Jordan Flaherty filed this report from New Orleans.

    JORDAN FLAHERTY: On Sunday, as Hurricane Gustav moves forward through the Gulf, the streets of New Orleans are nearly empty, except for police, military and private security.

    RICKY WILLIAMS: My name is Ricky. A lot of people know me as Agent Matthews, I’m with Blackhawk Protection Services, and I’m proud to be onboard.

    JORDAN FLAHERTY: For the people without transportation, estimated by the city at 30,000, there was no shelter available.

    CHARLES JOHNSON: This time that this has been implemented into — so, I don’t know. When I came here, a bus was here, but I guess it was full, because they had at least ten people sitting here when that bus pulled off.

    FATHER VIEN NGUYEN: Now we have, what, about twenty people here for mass this morning. This is the only mass that we’ll have for this morning. And normally, we would have about 500 people for this mass, and the next one is about 800 to a thousand. There won’t be a next one. So, people have left. Most of them have left already.

    JORDAN FLAHERTY: Prisoners in the city jail were shipped upstate to Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a former slave plantation where it’s estimated 90 percent of those currently incarcerated there will die behind its walls.

    Against a clear sky and an eerie quiet, as the Gulf Coast braces for Gustav, residents recall the devastation experienced after Hurricane Katrina. When the levees broke open, water rushed in, and 80 percent of the city’s homes were damaged. At that point, tens of thousands of people were still in the city, many of them stranded in attics or on rooftops. As the world watched, the heartlessness and incompetence of the Bush administration policies were revealed.

    YOLANDA YOUNG: Yeah, we’ve been — you know, rent and, you know, bills and jobs ain’t paying like they’re supposed to. So it’s been hard. Government ain’t helping you. They ain’t talking about it.

    CHARLES JOHNSON: Oh, it’s pretty slow. It’s pretty slow. I still have relatives that — I have a brother that — two brothers that still yet haven’t been able to come back, because they were renters, and the price of the rent, when they came back from the hurricane, it doubled. And they’re on a fixed income, and they can’t afford to come back.

    BILL QUIGLEY: There’s been, you know, for the last twenty-something years, Republicans and Democrats — there’s been a systematic effort to say the government is bad and to downsize government and to privatize government. And so, we get to the point that government is small and really unable to respond to major problems. And we’ve had thousands of churches, we’ve had hundreds of thousands of volunteers that have come help us, but they can’t take the place of government.

    JORDAN FLAHERTY: New Orleans has already lost 200,000 residents since Katrina. Those that came back had to struggle to get help from the federal government. Now, after three years of hardship, residents are not sure they can go through it again.

    VONDA BRAMBLETT: If it do the damage like Katrina did, I’m going to just make my home somewhere else. I don’t think I’m going to come back. I can’t do it. I love the city of New Orleans, but I don’t know. If it be bad like Katrina, I don’t think I’m going to come back.

    YOLANDA YOUNG: I don’t know. I will probably come back to visit, but I don’t know if I’m going to come back if it’s like Katrina.

    JORDAN FLAHERTY: Katrina was not the so-called storm of the century. And it’s likely that Gustav will not be either. The true disaster was crumbling infrastructure, the shocking lack of preparation, and government response that criminalized the people of New Orleans instead of protecting them.

    CAROL KOLINCHAK: One of my big concerns is that there seems to be more concern with protecting property than protecting our people.

    SAKET SONI: It’s very important that people understand that no matter how good this evacuation looks to you on television, there are serious errors, serious breakdowns, and the same communities that were left behind three years ago during Hurricane Katrina are the communities that are now falling through the cracks of the evacuation for Hurricane Gustav. For poor and working-class people, for the working poor, for people of color, this evacuation is turning into a disaster, and it’s unfolding from New Orleans all the way to Atlanta and probably beyond.

    JORDAN FLAHERTY: Unfortunately for poor New Orleanians, some of the strongest and safest housing no longer stands. Housing developments have become vacant lots, strewn with the former possessions of thousands of families.

    BILL QUIGLEY: In the last hurricane and in every hurricane, a lot of low-income people went to stay with family and friends that lived in public housing, because those are the sturdiest structures in the community. And about 4,000 of those apartments have been destroyed since Katrina. And the government really took — government and private developers really took advantage of Katrina, used it as an opportunity to lock people out of their apartments, not to let them come back, and to destroy it. And people are worried about that again right now.

    RICCO DAVIS: Well, right now, we’re in Iberville housing development right now. This is one of the — one of the last ones still standing, because all the rest of them, they’re tearing them down and stuff, you know? Poor people really ain’t going to have nowhere to go, you know? So I don’t know if they plan on tearing this one down. I don’t know if they’re going to let us back in. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    I know all the other developments, they tore them — when they tore them down and everything, they should have at least made sure people had somewhere to stay, somewhere to live. You know, that’s the people — you know, they used to live in there all their lives and stuff. Now they’re tearing them down and things. So where are they putting the people? Where are the people going? And now this hurricane season, I think a lot of people ain’t going to come back.

    SAKET SONI: We’ve been tracking people who got in front of the Greyhound line, got on buses and left. We have about 150 contacts on buses spread out and going from shelter to shelter. We got a call last night from a father of two who was traveling in a car with his mother and his younger son. He called at about 10:30 p.m. to tell us that he had been turned away from five shelters in a row and was told to go to the sixth one. He didn’t have enough gas to know whether he would reach the sixth shelter.

    AUDREY STEWART: Well, it definitely feels like it’s a smoother evacuation process. I think what’s going to remain to be seen is what happens for folks over the next few days. I mean, just getting them out is one thing, but where are they going to go? How are they going to get housed, fed? What conditions are they going to encounter? What’s their out? And then, of course, how are people going to get back in, I think, is going to be a huge issue.

    SAKET SONI: It’s very important that as shelters open up, as homes opened up, as churches open up for poor and working-class, particularly African American, residents of New Orleans, that a conversation also opens up about their right to return. We cannot have another Katrina, where families from New Orleans are spread out across the United States with no path back to the city they love.


That report by Jordan Flaherty in New Orleans, independent reporter, editor of Left Turn.

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