I could continue to reprint the AP reports as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill story unfolds. But you can do that, and you probably are. The oil hasn’t stopped spilling into the gulf but the blame game has begun. At today’s count, there are 20 lawsuits pending against Halliburton (sound familiar?) and BP keeps saying they did the right thing, thinking it was (a) nothing (b) containable (c) could never be as bad as it is-- as it gets worse by the minute. Any thought that this is (or will be) an isolated incident is foolhardy and dangerous. There are 4,000 wells in the gulf region. I am not a gambler, but I know enough not to wager on those odds.
I put the above picture up with maybe my first or second blog post. It was in response to Speaker Pelosi advocating offshore drilling. It was a really bad idea then. It is still a really bad idea. The media made a big deal about the first bird to have been salvaged from this spill. It was a northern gannett, found offshore and not on the coast. It is not just a matter of a bird getting dirty that is at issue. The oil coats the birds, preventing them from flying causing them to languish in the cold water, where the chill eventually kills them.
The northern gannett is just one of the hundreds of species of fish and wildlife that are threatened by the spill. This is the birthing season for the roughly 5,000 dolphins along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. Estimates of losses in the seafood industry are now around $2-3 billion. One-third of the country’s seafood comes from the area. It’s not just the gulf shrimp. Crabs. Oysters, tuna and other fin fish that are jeopardized, it is the jobs of the hundreds of workers in the industry who will soon find themselves out of work.
But maybe the biggest victim of all is, once again, the City of New Orleans.
Driving out of Louis Armstrong International Airport, you see a sign just before getting on the interstate, “Welcome to New Orleans. The City that Care Forgot.”
It took me a while to understand what that meant. It may have been a city without a care, once. I just can’t think of when that was. A roll through the 9th ward today and you would think Katrina hit a month or so ago. It has a long way to go to resemble the way it was. And the way it was hadn't been all that great.
After Katrina, Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, questioned the rationale behind trying to save New Orleans at all. The place is built below sea level, it’s a crime-infested cesspool, anyway. Let it sink back into the ocean. It wouldn’t have been the first time politicians tried to submerge people and parishes. Randy Newman’s moving ballad, “Louisiana 1927,” tells the story of the most destructive river flood in American history. I personally prefer Marcia Ball’s rendition of the many recordings (see below). Mepmphis Minnie wrote “When the Levee Breaks,” which wsa reworked by Led Zeppelin. Fifteen inches of rain fell in eighteen hours, causing levees to break along the Mississippi in 145 places. According to Wikipedia, “As the flood approached New Orleans, about 30 tons of dynamite were set off on the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana and sent 250,000 feet of water pouring through. This prevented New Orleans from experiencing serious damage, but flooded much of St. Bernard Parish and all of Plaquemines Parish's east bank. As it turned out, the destruction of the Caernarvon levee was unnecessary; several major levee breaks well upstream of New Orleans, including one the day after the demolitions, made it impossible for flood waters to seriously threaten the city.”
The city survived then. It survived Katrina. But how much can one soul endure? How many tests? To paraphrase Led Zeppelin’s pilfering of Howlin’ Wolf, “How many more times?”
I love New Orleans. I got to know it well in the ‘90’s. I was seduced by the lush heat and oppressive humidity of the summer. The ubiquitous Spanish moss. The magnolia trees. The history and assimilation of so many cultures. The voodoo and the blues, the place where jazz was born and organized crime began in America, (the Black Hand predated the Mafia by years). The music. The art. The literature. And the people. The mystery and the mojo. There is simply no place like it in the country and maybe the world. That is both good and bad. But none of that matters when its very existence is once again, threatened by disaster. The shame of it all is that the damage of Katrina, like that of the floods in 1927, and the imminent damage from the Deepwater Horizon spill were all preventable… were all caused by human beings.
Sadly, I doubt this will be my last word on New Orleans and this unfolding tragedy.