Katrina 13 year anniversary – What the hell!

Thirteen years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the lives of over a thousand New Orleans residents, scattering survivors throughout the country.  And yet, based on our abysmal response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, we’ve learned little.  Get this year’s annual Katrina recognition dedicated to Puerto Rico started.

katrina3Shamarr Allen creates the intensity of a hurricane with the opening track of this show “Katrina and the Flood.”  It’s become almost a tradition to play that song as well as Marva Wright’s heart-wrenching “The Levee is Breaking Down” which comes off her post-Katrina album, After the Levees Broke.

This year’s show features the KAOS premiere of “You and Me” a song written to dramatize the story of Tim Bruneau, a New Orleans police officer who was working when the levees broke. Bruneau found the body of 23-year-old Marie Latino after the hurricane had passed but before the city had started to flood.  After several attempts to have the body picked up, he put her in the back seat of his car.  But after failing to find a  hospital to take the body, he was ordered to “undo” what he did.  He placed Latino’s body in a body bag and returned it to where he found, where it floated on flood waters until it was picked up a few days later.  The song is poignant and haunting.  An autopsy later revealed that she had been shot instead of killed by the storm as originally believed.

Sonny Landreth song “Blue Tarp Blues” references President George Bush’s famous looking out from Air Force One and Marcia Ball sings Randy Newman’s ode to the 1927 Louisiana flood. I finish the show with Dee-1 and Shamarr Allen singing about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico titled “Sorry Ain’t Enough No More.”

A dozen years after Katrina

The 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans has been marked by deadly flood waters around the planet–from Houston to Bangladesh. Today’s show, originally aired on KAOS and presented in edited form below, is dedicated to all flood victims.  As weather intensifies in the future, we all run the risk of being weather victims.

This week’s show starts with wetland preservation advocate Tab Benoit, singing “Shelter Me.”  Clarence “Gatemouth” “Brown follows with his seminal song “Hurricane.”  Mr. Brown died of cancer on September 10, 2005 after having to evacuate his Katrina-damaged home in Slidell (near New Orleans) two weeks earlier. Marva Wright re-enacts the ground level experience in New Orleans during the flooding in “The Levee Is Breaking Down” and the Free Agents Brass Band perform their song of survival “We Made It Through the Water.” Here’s the complete playlist.

Here’s where I archive all my recorded shows. 

Hurricane Katrina scattered New Orleans music across the U.S.

An upside to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood was the infusion of New Orleans culture throughout our country.  With the city almost completely evacuated, its people, music, cooking, way of talk and style scattered across the U.S. like seeds from a dandelion blowball.

Texas received the largest number of evacuees. Austin, which like New Orleans is a regional music mecca, swelled from the addition of Cyril Neville, the Iguanas, the Radiators and other musicians — some who came to call themselves “Texiles” while playing music and waiting to return to their hometown. The resultant mix was described by Cyril Neville as having the “gumbo spill into the chili.”

Here’s more on how some of New Orleans finest musicians fared:

  • Fats Domino, the city’s greatest rocker, is a lifelong resident of the Lower Ninth
    Fats Domino was not only a major force in Rock n' Roll, he help inspire sk.
    Fats Domino and his family were rescued by Coast Guard from his lower Ninth Ward home.

    Ward. He stayed in his home through the hurricane and was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. But he lost all his gold records and memorabilia.

  • Irma Thomas – The Soul Queen of New Orleans weathered the storm and the aftermath in Austin Texas. She rebuilt her East New Orleans home and she won a grammy for her post Katrina recorded album.
  • Dave BartholomewThe home and studio of the man behind many of New Orleans R&B hits of the 1950’s suffered considerable flood damage but he and his family (His son Don B. is a successful hip-hop producer) have bounced back with now three generations of Bartholomew’s making music.
  • The Radiators – Once described as New Orleans’ longest running and most successful rock band are no longer an act officially–though you can occasionally catch them on special events and Jazzfest. Hurricane Katrina landed on guitarist Dave Malone’s birthday. He and his wife struggled to rebuild their home and ended up living outside of New Orleans.
  • Al Johnson – The man who made it possible to be  “Carnival Time” any time of the year, lost his  long-time house on Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward  He now lives in the Musicians Village  where he penned Lower Ninth Ward Blues
  • The Iguanas – The members of this latin-tinged roots rock band were on tour at the
    The Iguanas made a temporary home in Austin while waiting to return to New Orleans. Joe Cabral (left) and Rene' Coman performing at French Quarter Festival this year.
    The Iguanas made a temporary home in Austin while waiting to return to New Orleans. Joe Cabral (left) and Rene’ Coman performing at French Quarter Festival this year.

    time and separated to find evacuated family members. They regathered in Austin and became part of the flexible ensemble of New Orleans musicians known as Texiles. The band has had three CD releases since Katrina.

  • The Hot 8 Brass Band – This innovative group could be called the Adversity Brass Band.  Before Katrina, three of its band members had died — two from shootings.  After Katrina, a fourth member was shot to death while driving in his car with his family. Another member lost the use of his legs in an accident. The band scattered across the country after Katrina and could easily have disbanded permanently. But it regrouped, recorded a grammy-nominated album and still perform today.
  • Dr. Michael G. White – The University professor and clarinetist lost his home in Gentilly, including many valuable jazz documents. But he’s back in town and working as hard as ever.
  • Henry Butler – Fortunately the talented piano virtuoso was convinced to evacuate his Gentilly home, which was devastated by flood waters. Blind since birth, he can’t tell you what the damage looked like but he can describe the feel of his piano keys as they fell apart in his hands. Last year, he and Steve Bernstein released “Viper Drag” to rave reviews and he regularly performs. 
  • Kermit Ruffins – “What good is a million dollars if you’re not in New Orleans.” The widely recognized ambassador to New Orleans evacuated to Houston with a large extended family and pets. He returned to New Orleans after the storm and continued his routine up until last year. Ironically, his wife got a job in Houston and he now splits his time between New Orleans and Houston.
  • Donald Harrison Jr.- This lifelong New Orleans resident, Big Chief and heralded jazz saxophonist has a fear of hurricanes borne from his youthful experience escaping from Hurricane Betsy’s flood. But he stuck it out in the city cause his mother-in-law wouldn’t leave. They slept on the ballroom floor of the Hyatt Regency during the storm and aftermath, escaping to Baton Route four days later. 
  • John Boutte' nervously watched events unfold from Brazil, finally talking one of his sisters and mother to evacuate before Katrina hit.
    John Boutte’ nervously watched events unfold from Brazil, finally talking one of his sisters and mother to evacuate before Katrina hit.

    Shamar Allen – This young trumpet player’s home was right next to a levee that broke. He now owns a home in the Musician’s Village. He contributed some key songs to the musical Nine Lives that focuses on New Orleanians who survived Hurricane Betsy and Katrina.

  • John Boutte was in Brazil at the time and watched almost helplessly the hurricane reports from afar. Fortunately, he finally convinced one of his sisters and mother to evacuate but his other two sisters were stranded on an interstate highway bridge for five days.
  • Terence Blanchard – Much of this jazz trumpeter’s story was told in the Spike Lee movie “When the Levees Broke.” In the documentary, you can see him and his mother enter her flood-wrecked near Lake Ponchatrain. Blanchard wrote the score for the documentary and won a grammy for subsequent album he released.

Last week and this week, I’m honoring the survivors of Hurricane Katrina who dealt with intense horror, long hot days, and many months and in some cases years of uncertainty about their future. And yet, they returned to New Orleans, their home and rebuilt. Last week’s Katrina show here  and this week’s show.

Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary is a time to reflect

The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina affords us the opportunity to remember and reflect on how devastating nature can be when compounded by human failure.

katrina3
Eighty percent of New Orleans was underwater after the levees failed during and after Hurricane Katrina struck.

As often happens, the poor, elderly and vulnerable populations suffered disproportionately because of their inability to get out of harms way and the paucity of their personal resources to recover afterwards.

Sadly, that seems to be a worldwide characteristic. But what Katrina revealed was that a country that could deliver troops anywhere in the world within two days could not come to the rescue of one of its most culturally rich cities and its residents. And the residents that suffered the most were poor.

I love my country and as a 30-year state employee, I believe in the positive power of government. But local, state and federal governments failed in Hurricane Katrina, from insufficient evacuation efforts, to the negligence in building and maintaining the levee system, to the limp rescue and recovery efforts and insufficient relief and restoration programs that followed.

Like most folks who witnessed from afar, I was alarmed and shamed by the failure to evacuate the city’s low-income, elderly and vulnerable population. Roughly 100,000 people were left behind, stranded in a flooded city, fleeing like rats to the Superdome, Convention Center, bridges and rooftops, stuck there for days in insufferable heat with little food and water.  Roughly 1,800 residents died.

A destroyed home New Orleans lower Ninth Ward. The writing on the outside was from rescue workers.
A destroyed home New Orleans lower Ninth Ward. The writing on the outside was from rescue workers.

I had planned to visit my sister that fall. She had moved back to New Orleans from the Northwest the year before. I already had my plane ticket when on that Sunday morning in late August I watched Mayor Ray Nagin on national television urge the city’s evacuation with the words: “We’re facing the storm most of us have feared.”

I was out of town, watching the TV at a hotel. When I got home later that day, a phone message from my sister said she was going to hunker down and stay in the city.  I wouldn’t hear her voice again for over a month.

Her message had been left on Saturday night.  Nagin’s announcement was made Sunday morning. The hurricane made landfall near New Orleans on Monday morning, August 29, and by Tuesday 80 percent of the city was underwater.

The power of the water when the levees broke pushed houses off foundations and cars down several blocks.
The power of the water when the levees broke pushed houses off foundations and cars down several blocks.

My sister did eventually evacuate. Unlike many of the residents who were left behind, Katie had a car and the financial means to buy gas and survive the many months of uncertainty that followed. She was lucky yet she suffered so much personal anguish and loss that I doubt she will ever live again near the hurricane zone.

I rebooked my flight for Jazz Fest that April which did occur and reignited my love for New Orleans culture. My sister gave me the devastation tour of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth ward, both areas completely submerged by what is now recognized as one of the worst civil engineering failures in U.S. history

There are a great many things the city and its residents can take pride in achieving over the decade. The city took a death blow and got up off the mat and survived–perhaps even thrived. New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit and live in. But it has changed.

Maybe some of the changes are good, maybe not. But Katrina, like the 1927 flood and Hurricane Betsy, has left its mark.

I’m dedicating my next two radio shows  — (First Podcast and Second Podcast)to Katrina survivors.  In my next post, I’ll tell brief stories of how some of the New Orleans musicians I play on my show weathered the storm.