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29 August 2006 @ 11:32 am
Story: Katrina; Dateline: ...?  
When you think of Hurricane Katrina, what place do you think of?

Do you immediately think of New Orleans?

I've kept a casual eye on the media coverage of the hurricane over the past year. It seems to me that most of the coverage has been based in or about New Orleans.

My esteemed mother (ninjanurse), displaced by the hurricane, becomes angry whenever she notices this tendency. New Orleans isn't where the storm came ashore, she points out. That was Gulfport and Biloxi, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She thinks that's where the coverage should be based.

I've pointed out that most people have heard of New Orleans, so readers and viewers can get an immediate sense of place when it's the dateline, but that's not the case with Gulfport and Biloxi. She thinks that's not accurate, because the region is one of the top casino destinations in the country. (I would still guess there's a large difference in recognition level.)

But more than that, I think it's a matter of what people take Hurricane Katrina to be a story about.

Yes, the Mississippi Gulf Coast was devastated by the storm itself. It hosted the storm's landfall. At the same time, though, hurricanes are somewhat expected there, just as blizzards are expected in the Northeast and earthquakes in California. The destruction was phenomenal, yes, but every schoolchild in the region grows up watching the footage from Hurricane Camille. Until Katrina, Camille was a defining disaster for the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in the way the Blizzard of '78 is a defining event for New Englanders.

But after Katrina came the failure of the levees. The flooding of a major US city. The stranding of thousands of people, largely (though not exclusively) along class lines -- which in this country maps largely (though not exclusively) along race lines.

Over the past year I've heard that the story of Katrina is the flooding, the incompetence of the current administration, the class divide, the race divide, the country's abandonment of the poor, the dire warning knell of global climate change, the hubris of man's attempt to conquer nature. For one editorial writer at the New Orleans Times Picayune, the story is that the citizens of New Orleans were lied to by the Corps of Engineers.

In other words, the story isn't the devastating hurricane; the story is the aftermath in New Orleans. The story is the sequence of disasters, the complicated narrative that illustrates any of a dozen morals. For that story, New Orleans is the place; the rich cultural history of this well-known city adds dimension and contrast and irony. New Orleans has become "where it happened" much the same way that Banda Aceh became "where the 2004 tsunami happened."

So Gulfport and Biloxi don't get the coverage -- at least most of the coverage. Occasional articles and clips do mention the area at least in passing; they get mentioned more often than, say, Waveland, MS. Or Pineville. Or Pass Christian, Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, D'Iberville, Gautier ... the list goes on. They may not have gotten the eye, but they were hit just as hard, and they generally speaking have fewer resources than the casino towns.

I'm from Gulfport, but it's part of my past, while it's still ninjanurse's present. Maybe that's why I'm not especially put out that the story of Katrina has been located elsewhere in the nation's view. I just don't know.

What about you, dear reader? What is the story of Hurricane Katrina? Where is the story of Hurricane Katrina? What lessons does this anniversary reinforce? Please feel free to discuss or disagree or debate in the comments.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
ninjanurse on September 2nd, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
Here is my problem list about Katrina:
10 Saying that the Gulf Coast is used to hurricanes is incorrect. Major hurricanes are not the norm. The last really major hurricane to hit the MS Gulf Coast was George around 1997 when power was out for five days for most coastal areas. Even then you did not have the devastation and destruction of the magnitude brought on by Katrina.
The last hurricane of Katrina magnitude was Camille in 1969. Even though Camille hit and hit hard, not near as many cities or area were as devastated as with Katrina. EVERY coastal city and many, many inland areas were harmed by this storm, and many received flooding comparable to New Orleans.
2] To say that hurricanes were not to be expected in the New Orleans area is wrong. My children were born there, we lived there for many years and had to evacuate many times. Just as Camille is well known as a coastal hurricane to hit and devastate MS, Betsy did much the same four years before Camille to New Orleans [in 1965].
3] I DO understand that the failure of the levees is and was an important issue BUT so is the need for help in not only MS, but in Alabama and parts of Florida.
4] Yes, my personal story is very unique but it has taken twelve months to get a FEMA trailer placed on my destroyed property. I am one of many still attempting to get help. The total focus on New Orleans [almost exclusively] has hurt the people who need help in other areas.