Lower Ninth Ward Residents Remember When The Levees Failed New Orleans

Aug 25, 2015
Originally published on August 25, 2015 1:32 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The stock market trouble comes during a week that we are recalling a different sort of catastrophe. It's the landfall of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago on the Gulf Coast. Last night, one New Orleans neighborhood came together to mark the anniversary in a slightly different way. They did not commemorate the storm, so much as the failure of a levee. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: On a street corner near the Industrial Canal floodwall, several dozen residents of the Lower Ninth Ward clustered around a sign wrapped in a blue tarp.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Three, two, one.

ELLIOTT: Sandy Rosenthal with the group levees.org unveiled the historical marker.

SANDY ROSENTHAL: Up until today, there had been nothing at the bridge site, except empty lots and a repaired wall.

ELLIOTT: She says the new sign is intended to help people understand what really happened here 10 years ago.

ROSENTHAL: That the flooding was not caused by a monster storm, not by local corruption and not by a city below the sea. There was nothing to teach visitors that all that death and destruction was due to mistakes by our federal government.

ELLIOTT: The marker describes how local residents heard a loud sound on August 29, 2005 at about 7:45 in the morning. The floodwall had collapsed, sending a wall of water into the Lower Ninth Ward, a historically African-American neighborhood. This is where a barge came crashing into the residential streets. Homes were swept from their foundations, and scores of people died. A year later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged that levee design problems were to blame for the majority of Katrina flooding in New Orleans. The neighborhood is still struggling with vacant lots on just about every block. Resident Ronald Lewis says they'll come back.

RONALD LEWIS: I'm not going nowhere. I'm a life-longer. I was born right around the corner at 1911 Deslonde St. And my family home got washed away in Hurricane Katrina, you know. And like that sign says, roots run deep. That's us.

ELLIOTT: Local musician Al Carnival Time Johnson wrote a song about what the people here have gone through.

AL CARNIVAL TIME JOHNSON: OK, we going to do a little Lower Ninth Ward blues.

ELLIOTT: He performed just as the sun set behind the floodwall.

JOHNSON: (Singing) I don't know just which way to go because my home is not there anymore.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.