Katrina survivors suffer perverse indignity



Surely any civilians remaining in New Orleans by now could have been evacuated. That is, if they wanted to leave. But there remain some holdouts. Since Mayor C. Ray Nagin has repeatedly declared a mandatory civilian evacuation, remaining residents have been not so much evicted as evacuated –at gunpoint.

Those being forcibly herded into police and military vehicles and dragged out of town to shelters likely never imagined a scenario where they would be coerced from their homes by American National Guardsmen.

Ostensibly they are being removed for their own safety. But clearly the floodwaters are receding, and many residents feel sufficiently comfortable with their food stocks to stick around.

The disease factor is often mentioned, but has yet to arrive, and anyway, the police and military are no less susceptible than residents of the French Quarter.

In a free country, the Land of the Brave, the people of New Orleans who courageously survived the worst hurricane and flooding in that city’s history are being forced to abandon their homes. On top of all the indignities inflicted upon them by mother nature, these Katrina victims who have secured food and water are enduring a suspension of their civil liberties.

Johnny White’s Sports Bar and Grill, on Bourbon street in the French Quarter, never closed throughout the hurricane and the watery aftermath.

In nearby Lafayette Square, owners and staff of directnic, a large internet company, have been using diesel generators to keep their business going. A proprietor of directnic (and former U.S. Army Special Forces officer), Michael Barnett, has kept a fascinating blog (www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor) throughout the pre- and post-Katrina experience, including a telling incident wherein a squad of 82nd Airborne soldiers burst into their secured headquarters Wednesday morning “to investigate the lights and movement.”

Clearly, economic activity in New Orleans never did come to a complete standstill.

What prompts people to stay? Mr. Barnett has an essential business to run, but others remain behind out of a profound psychological attachment to their homes. Inner city residents without cars may not have left New Orleans in decades, if ever. And New Orleans, with all its splendid architecture and history, has an unusually strong sense of civic pride. There is the desire to protect one’s home from looters — even ones in uniform.

Besides, motivations to leave are especially lacking. However bad the French Quarter might look in Katrina’s aftermath, it’s certainly preferable to the scenery inside Houston’s Astrodome.

Forcibly evicting citizens from their own homes brings additional trauma to those who have endured the worst natural disaster in American history. As more people are removed from New Orleans, fewer are likely to return. So who will live there once it’s rebuilt? The city’s economy needs people — the more people who leave, the longer it will be before a return to economic normalcy.

In the absence of ATMs, paycheques, and regular work, an underground economy emerges. People barter goods or labour to get what they need. Some are no doubt already at work on repairs.

But being outside the “official” relief effort, their work is deemed illegitimate, and they are being forced to quit. Yet hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to such charities as the Red Cross and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Billions have been released by congress. Couldn’t some of this money go toward hiring New Orleans citizens to clean up their own neighbourhoods?

Now that law enforcement officers and military personnel outnumber remaining residents of New Orleans, a total eviction will surely be swift.

This tragedy will be remembered not merely for destroying the economy of New Orleans, but also the sanctity of the American home.