2006-10-05 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Flashy Celebration Cloaked Big Easy's Sluggish Recovery
By Neil S. Friedman


"For one night, Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a horrible recollection... But when the sun rose the following morning, the city's desolation had not ebbed nor had the lingering memory of the shameful, insufficient preparedness of local, state and federal government's pitiful disaster response.""For one night, Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a horrible recollection... But when the sun rose the following morning, the city's desolation had not ebbed nor had the lingering memory of the shameful, insufficient preparedness of local, state and federal government's pitiful disaster response." I hate to be a post-party pooper, but last week's gala reopening of the New Orleans Superdome should not have been hyped as a major comeback for the Katrina-devastated Big Easy.

Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a horrible recollection for one night as New Orleans set aside its recovery problems to focus on a football game that merely provided a temporary morale boost. But when the sun rose the next morning, the city's desolation had not ebbed, nor had the lingering memory of the shameful, insufficient preparedness of local, state and federal government's pitiful disaster response.

Who can forget the images just over thirteen months ago inside the Superdome packed with 30,000 Hurricane Katrina refugees as it was transformed into a huge, hot, homeless shelter? Monday night, the aging football arena swelled with an SRO crowd of 68,000, but this time the atmosphere was calmer, cooler and distinctly more celebratory to mark the homecoming of the New Orleans Saints in a highly promoted and eagerly anticipated game against their regional NFL rivals, the Atlanta Falcons.

Repairs to the partially renovated Dome, which will cost an estimated $245 million by the time the work is completed, were reportedly hastened by an urgent request from former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

I wonder if anyone's made a similar request to accelerate funds to help the city's displaced persons and businesses.

While the festive atmosphere was welcomed in a city that is a long way from returning to its pre-Katrina prominence, it seemed sort of impulsive to celebrate the return of the town's football team when tens of thousands of its residents are still in exile and trying to put their broken lives back together, especially when the Superdome was a glaring representation of the myriad of mistakes made by officials at every government level in the wake of the hurricane.

Oddly ignored in the pre-game celebration was the native music that figuratively helped put New Orleans on the map. Instead of focusing on homegrown talent, like Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, who are involved in a project to provide housing for the city's musicians and others affected by Katrina, the event featured performances by rock and roll bands U2, a popular band from Ireland, whose guitarist founded a charity to provide instruments to the city's 2,000 musicians, Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Not overlooked amid the football fever was an astute double-entendre commentary by a fan with a sign that read: "Katrina's wind may have taken our trees, but now we have a Bush and a Brees," referring to the Saints' Heisman Trophy-winning rookie running back Reggie Bush and new quarterback Drew Brees.

Let me make a couple of wild assumptions here: The tens of thousands who filled the Superdome Monday night were barely, if ever, affected by Katrina and most of the beer-guzzling millions who watched the nationally-televised game likely never spent more than a moment or two thinking about those devastated by the 2005 hurricane.

The Monday scenario brought to mind when President Bush went to New Orleans to talk to the nation several weeks after the hurricane. As cameras focused on the president at a podium in a clean, dry area that appeared to have been essentially untouched by Katrina, the media later reported that just half a mile away were neighborhoods that reeked from human sewage and still under water. In other words, like the president's PR gambit to demonstrate things were not as bad as it seemed, the intense joy displayed Monday night was absent in many of the city's hardest communities a little more than a gridiron's length away.

While rejoicing over the Superdome's restoration is a positive step for the recovering Crescent City, let's see how long it takes to restore comparable restitution for those forced to remain behind when their homes were destroyed by raging floodwaters. And whatever repairs are made to the levees, let's hope they are strong enough to withstand the next Category 5 hurricane.

Citizens of Louisiana watching the Saints go marching back into the New Orleans Superdome saw it as a welcome sign, but it will even be more acceptable when those displaced by Hurricane Katrina can truly call New Orleans their home again.

Despite the scoreboard reflecting a 23-3 win for the Saints, the ultimate score was: Football fans 1, Katrina victims 0.

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