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Sep 02, 2008

Our Man In New Orleans: Do You Think They're Going To Feel Confident?

A photographer I was with who hasn't covered this kind of thing asked: "What happens if this breaks right now?"  I said: "Then we die."

According to Alan Chin from New Orleans (in my best transcription), these were the four stories to Gustav:

The first was that New Orleans was spared, which is a very good thing.

The second is that the evacuation worked, which shows they've made progress.  They evacuated twenty-five thousand, including all the hospitals and nursing homes.  "...There are only ten thousand people left in this city, and they're probably almost all cops or journalists."

Third is that, it is so eerily reminiscent of Katrina here now.  Again, the city is empty, a ghost town.  Again, there is the curfew, the martial law.  Think about it, a major American city that's been shut down for a week.  Although they got off easy, something like this does a lot of damage to the long term psychology of this place.

Fourth, for all the talk of them improving the system since Katrina, they could have done a lot more.  This was a minor tropical storm, not even a Category 3.  It was probably a Category 2 or 3 90 miles from here.  In New Orleans, the winds were only about 80 mph, 90 at most.  Looking outside last night where we were staying, I saw a couple garbage cans overturned, and that was it.  What if this was a real Category 3?

Just look at that levee wall. [The shots in the slideshow show the Industrial Canal, separating the upper from lower Ninth Ward.]  Look at it getting pounded.  This is an eight foot storm surge and the water is coming over the wall.  What if it was 14 feet?  It wouldn't have taken much more for that to come apart like cardboard.

And what about the the harbor, and those three barges that broke loose and bumped into each other?  They didn't break through the levee wall like last time, but what were were they doing moored there where they could have become cannonballs?

And then, how do you think the people of New Orleans feel looking at these pics of this hurricane that was downgraded?  Do you think they're going to feel confident?  The news is usually about reporting what went wrong.  And nothing went wrong.  But it's a sign.  I think, long term, it opens up a lot of doubts about what the plans are, with no more wetlands, no more barriers in the swamp.

Finally, I also want to say, I think I was already a compassionate photographer, but working here the last three years, I have really come to love this place.  I've grown to understand it, it has gotten under my skin, and I am absolutely happy that these pictures are these pictures, and not what I sent three years ago.   I'm so happy and relieved that I didn't have that much to do today.

(Images © Alan Chin.  New Orleans. 2008.)


Hope you survived. They say Gustav was not so bad as Katrina for New Orleans. Looks bad to me.

I'm in Northeast Mississippi and right now we are being hammered by Tropical Storm Gustav...and I hear Hanna and her brother ....something that starts with the letter (I) are on the way...uuuggghhh.

ref : “the city is empty, a ghost town. Again, there is the curfew, the martial law. Think about it, a major American city that's been shut down for a week. Although they got off easy, something like this does a lot of damage to the long term psychology of this place.

Sounds like St. Paul : “250 people were arrested here today in St. Paul, Minnesota. Beginning last night, St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city be.

look, i'm sorry that Hurry, McCain! Gustav was such a bust, news-worthy wise, and Alan was unable to play Dorothea Lange wannabe all over again, but he's been stuck in that rut ever since old Katrina, and maybe he'll drop the whole Paint It Black gloom that now pervades his work, to the extent that a colorful, joyful Democratic National Convention is reduced to some kind of self-conscious, Schwarze Szene slideshow.

The Story is there, there where YOU are, BAGman. They're raiding homes with heavily-armed SWAT teams, and you don't need "style" nihilist-noir or otherwise to just point and shoot the reality of police actions so egregious as to be outrageous without caption: just the Chutzpah to BE THERE.

So stop whining about babies, for goodness sakes ~ you don't want to even GO THERE, man ~ and get your cute little bubble butt on out there with Amy and the rest of them being arrested, and get arresting.

And then, how do you think the people of New Orleans feel looking at these pics of this hurricane that was downgraded? Do you think they're going to feel confident?

They should not feel confident. Living in the path of hurricanes means they are genuinely in a lot of danger. It is very appropriate that they not feel confident. Feeling confident is a level of denial that puts people at risk.

Just take a look on the Netherlands. One third of the country is meters below sea-level. Winter storms coming in with a speed of up to 200 kms per hour are not unusual. Tidal waves piling up to 6 - 8 metres above normal tide are with these storms. Even here in Hamburg - 120 kms way inland from the North sea - tides above 6 and more meters above normal tide heights are planned for and Billions of Euros are invested to improve and heighten the dykes.
Looking at those thin concrete walls in New Orleans one can only be shocked about the neglectence of those, who planned and built such frail and questionable "protection". Why don't authorities seek the advice and experience we have gathered over here?
Building and saving dykes and levees is not the responsibility of some authority, but the task of the community. That's one of the lessons learned within hundreds of years protecting the land behind the North-Sea coast-line.

C'mon Gonz, Chin has a longstanding commitment to NO -- a place that God knows can use every champion. Also, I'm not even in Minnesota, I'm back in L.A. (And, there are many sites covering the protests and the police abuse in Minneapolis.) You know, I'm not averse to criticism -- unless it's personal. I should add, I don't believe for a second -- beyond your frustration over what is happening in the streets at the RNC -- that you meant to lash out at my chutzpah, or at Alan's aesthetic.

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