Saturday, September 03, 2005

When Hurricanes Strike: Forgotten Saint Bernard Parish

They say that history repeats itself. That's true, at least for Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana.

I grew up in the mostly white "bedroom community" located just east of the City of New Orleans. Most of the time when middle-class Americans think of white flight and bedroom communities they think of affluence. Bad thinking in this case. Think poor whites, working hard at low paying industrial jobs, living smack in the middle of a semi-rural swamp. The nice thing about the swamp was that when you suffered one of those periodic spells of unemployment you knew would come sooner or later, the swamp would feed you. Fish, shrimp, crawfish, oysters, rabbits, nutria, and more were to be had free from the bayous and wet muck that passed for land. Not bad when you literally have no money, as so many people did when I was growing up.

None of the major retailers had stores in St. Bernard when I was growing up. But, like every other bedroom community in America, St. Bernard has grown more prosperous over the years. Today the good people in Arabi, Chalmette, Meraux, Violet, and other communities making up St. Bernard know first hand Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and other retailers American babies can name before they can say their ABCs. That parish slogan from my childhood, "Buy, Build, Boost, Beautiful St. Bernard" must have worked.

I haven't been back for more years than I can count, but I know there's a lot that's new. Besides the major retail chains having moved in, the swamps have been drained so that subdivisions could sprout along with schools and other infracstructure to serve a growing population.

One thing that isn't new is how the national media ignores St. Bernard in covering hurricanes. Most of St. Bernard was covered in water in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy. The picture in this post shows the flooding caused by Katrina, but the scene in 1965 didn't look a bit different. To see the damage to St. Bernard, you'll have to check the blogs, like the one linked in this post.

When you read the accounts of devastation from Katrina in the national news media, they'll tell you that things in New Orleans would have been worse except that Katrina's eye veered eastward at the last moment. Eastward, right over St. Bernard Parish. One hundred fifty mile an hour winds pushing and pulling anything not nailed down, turning everyday objects into deadly projectiles.

What I learned from Hurricane Betsy is that most of the damage from Hurricanes is not wind related. Sure, shingles will get peeled off, unprotected glass broken, trees downed, and such. But houses that are built with any attention to detail tend to hold up pretty well unless a tornado (one of the side effects of hurricanes) strikes. The damage to homes you're seeing in Mississippi on the news is from the tidal surge of water, not wind effects.

Just as in 1965, St. Bernard Parish is not seen much in news coverage of the hurricane. I don't know if that's good or bad for the folks in St. Bernard. What I do know is that unless the people have changed in ways I can't fathom, they won't be sitting around waiting for the government to solve their problems. As soon as the water recedes, they'll be cleaning up their streets and properties themselves. They'll be feeding themselves, too. Mr. Alligator better watch himself, or he'll be on the menu!



At 12:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Search Engine

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Dr. Tammy said...

On FOX News, I felt there was quite a bit about St. Bernard Parish. My daughter's relatives live in Kenner and I felt there wasn't much said about that area.

I wonder if the St. Bernard Parish residents who were moved to Texas in the past week will be going back?


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