New Orleans had always been somewhere I wanted to visit. When Alternative Spring Break announced the group would be traveling there to help volunteer, I knew I had to apply. The jubilant atmosphere seemed intoxicating.
Whether it was the colorful beads strewn across every visible surface from Mardi Gras, the powdered beignets from the famous Café du Monde, or the live jazz that echoed through the streets, the city possessed a unique spirit. Those were what my expectations were of what I thought I would see on our trip.
Within only minutes of being in the city, they were quickly shattered. As we drove past the Superdome, which was awe-inspiring, it paled in comparison to what we saw once we got off the highway. Homes without windows, walls and caved in roofs lined the streets of Central City. Our group stayed there for the week. I was floored. Hurricane Katrina was the first major event which I was able to understand. However, it was always something that was abstract to me. It happened, but I could never truly understand how bad it was.
I would never have thought that almost 12 years later, I would be able to see how truly bad it was. Those homes are sickening scars – reminders that while nature can be ruthless, nothing compares to the destructive force humanity can yield.
It has been well documented how atrocious the response was from all levels of government, before and after Katrina hit. Evacuation orders were given out only a day before the hurricane hit.
People were made to seek refuge inside the Superdome without adequate food, water or proper sanitary conditions. A stadium that was a symbol of pride for the city, was turned into a purgatory.
President George W. Bush did not leave his vacation in Texas to return to Washington D.C. until the day after Katrina hit. FEMA’s response was disgraceful, and calling it a response is giving FEMA credit for something it didn’t do. Like I said before, Katrina was never a tangible thing to me.
However, spending just a week in New Orleans, meeting people that are still being affected by something that happened almost 12 years ago, it became clear. I understood for the first time in my life why people would distrust their own government. If I was told only one day beforehand to evacuate and gather all my belongings, I would distrust them, too.
If I wasn’t allowed to return to my own home for three months while mold grew throughout it and ruined everything, I would distrust them, too.
Nothing the government did directly before or since Katrina hit has helped rebuild that trust a citizen should have in its government. While my experience in New Orleans gave me a new perspective on many aspects of my own life, perhaps the most profound impact on me was how little our government has done to help rebuild such a great city.
Class of 2018