Growing up in New Orleans, one of the messages I got from school was that my hometown would, at some point in the not-too-distant future, cease to exist. It would be a slow and steady process leading to its obliteration: continued sinking of a city that’s already six feet below sea level, in conjunction with continued erosion along the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps the process would be helped along by the Mississippi River finally jumping the bed in which we humans have forced it to flow by an extensive system of levees. As an elementary school student, I envisioned a time in the future when my parents would be forced to migrate from New Orleans. Somehow, big bottles of Kentwood water are tied into the memory, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I had the idea that part of the pressure to move would be lack of potable water? Thinking about it now, it’s also interesting to me that even from a young age, as much I loved (and continue to love) my hometown, I didn’t imagine myself living there as an adult.
More than twenty years have passed, and during that time my anticipations for the city have changed. A few years ago, I read something that indicated that I’m not alone – the experts that were responsible for shaping the message I got as a child also changed their tune: New Orleans was not slowly sinking into oblivion.
But now I’m sitting up in the early morning hours, watching forecasters talking about Hurrican Katrina and the flooding that will submerge the city of New Orleans. They say things like “the pumps will fail,” and “water will remain standing for six months.” They don’t speak in mights and maybes, except in relation to the integrity of the levees. And that scares me. It makes it hard for me to hold on to the belief I’ve held for the past 10 or so years – that there is something geographic or meteorologic that prevents New Orleans from recieving a direct hit from a major hurricane. That even when we think one is going to hit, this natural force that we’ve yet to understand causes the hurricane to shift directions.
I’d like to think that we’ll be able to take our children to New Orleans in the future, and that it will be a sightseeing adventure with many of my childhood haunts intact. And not akin to the sights I saw in my younger years – driving along the Gulf Coast, seeing years-old damage left behind by Hurricanes Camille and Betsy. I’d like to think that the future I’d envisioned as a child isn’t coming true in a more abrupt fashion. I’d like to think that all my family and friends, and their possessions (and ours, left in my parent’s house) will be okay. I guess the next 36 hours will tell.