New Orleans: City of X's is a first person account of one man's fight to keep from drowning; initially in the flood waters following Hurricane Katrina, and then in the tsunami of red tape produced by the FEMA bureaucracy. Staying afloat in the former was easy, staying sane when dealing with the latter, almost impossible.
What would you do if a natural disaster destroyed everything you owned: house, car, all physical possessions and the entire town in which you lived? What if you learned later that Mother Nature was only partly to blame; that the chief culprit was government incompetence? City of X’s tells the story of surviving the deluge that followed Hurricane Katrina after choosing not to evacuate. It also details the physical destruction of the flood, what it took to rebuild along with the psychological damage done by the revelations of bureaucratic malfeasance and ineptitude revealed to the victims as they tried to recover.
I was unconcerned on August 28, 2005 as Hurricane Katrina approached. It was a big one, but growing up southeast of New Orleans I had been through many “big ones” and never evacuated. I saw no need to leave my home on that breezy Sunday. At the time, I was a recovering alcoholic in the process of putting my life back together after a long, painful battle with the bottle. Storms had always provided an excuse to indulge once the windows were boarded up, and loose objects stowed. However, with my life finally taking a turn for the better, the thought of drinking had not entered my mind; well, briefly maybe.
For most of the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster. What happened to New Orleans during and after the storm was an engineering fiasco; the result of thousands of small betrayals and ineptitude over the years between hurricanes Betsy and Katrina. It wasn’t until months later that the revelations of how badly the Army Corps of Engineers had let us down that my difficulties truly began. As long as I thought the flood was an act of God I was able to cope, but the betrayal of New Orleans by the C.O.E. inflicted more psychological damage than the flood. I fought through all of the physical obstacles to come back and rebuild. However, getting over the resentments brought on by the failed levees and FEMA foul-ups were the hardest part of the recovery process and almost caused me to give up on both coming home and my sobriety. In contrast, physically rebuilding was a cinch.
Essentially, coming home was an act of faith, a smarter or saner man may have chosen otherwise. I’ve doubted my course many times, but all these years later, my persistence has paid off; I am happy to be home. However, every hurricane season I eye the levees warily and wonder…did they build them right this time, can we trust them this time?