The Day We Let a City Die

Posted by Fe Bongolan


Ten years after the Hurricane Katrina disaster devastated New Orleans and showed the incompetence and racism of state and federal government to glaring, tragic effect, Fe Bongolan asks, “How do we measure the distance of our conscience from our deeds?”

How do we measure the distance of our conscience from our deeds? Is it just by time? By how much has been torn down? How much has been rebuilt? Is it by lessons learned, or never learned? Perhaps it is by the stories that leave us haunted, nagged by the incessant ghosts of ‘what we should have done’?

These questions tug at us regarding Hurricane Katrina and our response. Ten years later, we sit with thousands of questions unanswered that we still find ourselves needing to ask.

To help us look back at what was and what is, today I am employing observations by Eric from his article “Katrina the Awakener” published in September 2005, to give us our baseline. It’s a must-read. The block quotes in this article are his.

“What we are witnessing is beyond incompetence at this stage; and is approaching genocide.”

As a former public works employee, I remember vividly how helpless I felt ten years ago, watching CNN’s coverage of an historic category five hurricane named Katrina raging over the Gulf of Mexico. When the storm hit the Gulf Coast it was downgraded to category three. But even lowered in its category of intensity, a hurricane is a hurricane. We were watching what climate change could do, though CNN could barely make a whisper, let alone a hint, about it.

While roads were still functional, many who had transportation available left the city. But those who couldn’t afford to leave stayed. We then witnessed with dismay and horror what appeared to be criminal foot-dragging by the government. Where were the FEMA officials getting aid, shelter and evacuation help for those too poor or infirm to escape?

Even to this day, we are uncovering more: I stared in shock at the photographs of over a hundred buses parked in lots, assigned to evacuate citizens in emergencies like this, unable to move because the lots they parked in were were flooded. In the event of Katrina, the city itself abandoned its own evacuation plan.

What happened after the storm hit was even worse. The levees along Lake Pontchartrain broke, right when Saturn moved from Cancer into Leo, and as Eric had said — all that water that had been penned up started to burst. The levee blew open over the most vulnerable areas of New Orleans, its lower east side, also known as the Ninth Ward.

When it was over, it was a disaster that killed close to 2,000 people. Still more remain missing, and incomplete records mean that if they still remain lost now, they may never be found.

“Are we to understand that the federal government is incapable of responding to an emergency? It would seem so.”

You only have to hear the name “Katrina” and you associate it with how much America, one of the richest countries in the world, stumbled and fell. In Katrina’s case, it was on every account: the bumbling of the federal government — FEMA specifically — as well as the State of Louisiana to react proactively and quickly to get people to safety prior to the storm hitting land; the mismanagement of the post-storm rescue and recovery by know-nothings like “heckuva job” Michael Brown, head of FEMA — a political lackey appointment whose job it was, until that time, to get as much government money out to Bush cronies as possible.

Before 9-11, FEMA was its own agency until the Bush Administration moved it under the Department of Homeland Security. I remember being reminded of the mismanagement of the Iraq War, already two years into the fight, in FEMA’s emergency response to Katrina. In fact, the parallels between the two would be comical were they not at the cost of so much misery, including and especially the ridiculous profiteering from human suffering using your taxpayer dollars.

FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina was the model of criminal neglect and dereliction of public duty at a time and place where it should never fail. New Orleans’ nickname, “The city that care forgot,” took on a new, darker twist. Then again, the Bush Administration was leading the effort of his party to make sure that government does not work; in that they were eminently successful.

“Incredibly, no organized relief program appeared visible. Indeed, police have received federal orders to privilege stopping looters against delivering aid and searching for survivors. In other words: The priority (as we have so often come to expect) is to protect property.”

We remember the bodies face down in the waters of the Mississippi; the people waiting for evacuation from their roofs; the stories of the sick and infirm trapped in blacked-out hospitals and elderly care homes, forced upstairs waiting for days for food, water and a safer place to be. We remember the cries for help on the news by the thousands forced to stay for days in the Superdome, finally being given water and ultimately food.

Then there were the stories of food shipments donated from across the globe lying in wait and disposed of because they’d spoiled; disorganized relief workers couldn’t get it to survivors in time. We even remember those racists of the AP, with a photo of a white couple carrying loaves of Wonder Bread and water bottles through the flood with the headline “Hurricane Survivors Struggle for Survival,” while a photo of black survivors doing the same was headlined “City Seeks to Prevent Looting.”

Ten years later, we are still sorting things through. We see some improvement over the handling of natural disasters such as Katrina; Hurricane Sandy comes to mind, but the baseline set by the Katrina disaster has been a low bar to clear.

The City of New Orleans is standing and re-building. But it isn’t the same. Many of the homes that stood for generations in the east side are gone, replaced by shining new homes that few of the original residents can afford. Gentrification has decreased the number of blacks in New Orleans, though enough have retained a foothold, struggling to keep the cultural vitality of the city and the region intact.

We have a White House that recognizes climate change is real, but still struggles with the interests that keep us from pursuing what should be a logical course of disaster prevention — and we have Katrina as a very concrete example of what that kind of devastation entails. We have yet to determine and appreciate the value of our most vulnerable: low-income, predominately black people and people of color. They still pay the “regrettable price” for protection of property.

I owe Hurricane Katrina for the awakening in me. It was through her that the outrage I felt found a voice. My writing voice was already crafting itself while blogging on politics, but when the levees broke it was Katrina that broke something through in me. Her tragedy helped me verbalize the outrage latent in my years of public service, and I found my voice of political activism. My writing was honed from a whisper to a shout. Fe-911 sprung from those flood waters.

How do we measure the distance of our conscience from our deeds? Is it by how much has been torn down or rebuilt? Is it just by time? Is it by lessons learned? Is it the stories that leave us haunted, nagged by incessant ghosts of “what we should have done”?

It’s been ten years since the levees broke, overwhelmed; ten years since they failed to keep the rising waters of Lake Pontchartrain away from the lower east side of New Orleans, killing close to 2,000 people and allowing a city to die. But something else died the day Saturn moved from Cancer into Leo — our arrogance.

We learned that even the greatest of nations is only as great as how much care its government and citizens give to their most vulnerable at their greatest time of need. We need to learn to pay attention to the changes in the Earth — the signs that only become more obvious with time and tide. We need to keep our arrogance muffled down, low and dead. We cannot be the nation that care forgot.

Posted in Fe-911 on | 10 comments
Fe Bongolan

About Fe Bongolan

Planet Waves writer Fe Bongolan lives in Oakland, California. Her column, "Fe-911," has been featured on Planet Waves since 2008. As an actor and dramaturge, Fe is a core member of Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," producing work that empowers the voices of all women in trouble, from ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS, to young girls and women at risk. A Planet Waves fan from almost the beginning of Eric's astrology career, Fe is a public sector employee who describes herself as a "mystical public servant." When it comes to art, culture and politics, she loves reading between the lines.

10 thoughts on “The Day We Let a City Die

  1. Barbara Koehler

    Thank you for your very moving tribute regarding the ravages of Katrina Fe, and for your memories and what we have learned from that episode. We should be aware that this took place on August 29, 2005, the same date but 10 years later we had a Super (full) Moon, the 1st of 3 in a row, with the middle one also a lunar eclipse. It’s a magical time. This means that the Sun on the day of Katrina’s landfall and the Sun in Saturday’s Super Moon were both in the degree of 6+ Virgo, the same degree as Pres. Obama’s Pluto. The Sun being opposite this past Saturday’s full Super Moon at 6+ Pisces who was of course, conjunct Neptune at 8+ Pisces retrograde.

    Katrina’s landfall happened when transiting Uranus was at 8+ Pisces retrograde, as Eric’s article pointed out. There was a remarkable example of astrology’s synchronization when, he reports, the discovery that Pluto in the chart for New Orleans, is also at 8+ Pisces as is the asteroid Prometheus in the same chart. Now we look at the U.S. Sibly chart and see that the U.S. Uranus at 8+ Gemini was square transiting Uranus at 8+ Pisces at the time of Katrina, and this energy manifested in the city of New Orleans. So the message is clear. . . for the U.S. it truly was an “awakening”, because of it’s connection with the natal Uranus cycle.

    Another cycle to consider when trying to understand the ramifications of planetary energies would be the Neptune-Pluto conjunction in 1891, which took place at 8+ Gemini and conjunct the U.S. Uranus. Pluto and Neptune were sextile Mars and Chiron both at 8+ Leo. This was a time in America referred to as the Gay Nineties, before taxation on corporations, and immigration was at its peak. Government was trying to improve cities, clean up ghettos and make life better for the common people. This may or may not have included New Orleans, but at the time that Katrina made landfall in 2005, the Moon was 8 Cancer 8 , forming a semi-sextile with Pluto and Neptune in Gemini and another semi-sextile with Mars and Chiron in Leo, in the 1891 chart that was the start of the Neptune-Pluto cycle we were in then and are still in now. Moon symbolizes The People.

    I would wonder then, as the transit of Saturn and then Jupiter approach 8 degrees of Capricorn and form a yod to the 2 sextiled conjunctions of (1) Pluto-Neptune in Gemini and (2) Chiron-Mars in Leo, if some fruition of the Neptune-Pluto cycle story (as seen in their August 2, 1891 conjunction chart) would benefit the survivors of the traumatized city of New Orleans, they being symbolized by the Moon (8+ Cancer) in the chart for Katrina’s landfall. Altogether, those transits of Saturn and Jupiter (2018-2020) would form a Boomerang (a return) with the 1891 chart sextile (+ US Uranus) and the Katrina Moon (2005). It’s beautiful; only time can heal wounds they say.

    I would also say that the chart for Katrina (6:10 AM, Buras, Louisiana) which had the IC (the roots of the chart) at 28+ Scorpio, which is where transiting Saturn was in Saturday’s Full (Super) Moon chart, might mean more than just a visit from President Obama. Obama has 28+ Scorpio on his MC (accomplishments) and that might mean funds for home-building and other necessities for the New Orleans area. Venus in the full moon chart for this past Saturday was in Leo (creative) and she formed a grand trine with Vesta (what we invest in) in Aries (new life) and Pallas (strategic planner) in Sagittarius (big picture), who was 1 degree from being conjunct the Great Attractor at 14+ Sagittarius, and 1 degree from the U.S. Sibly ascendant at 12+ Sagittarius. . . .

    And, Mars, who was only 2 degrees from the retrograde Venus was exactly trine Pallas too and certainly part of the grand fire trine in the August 29 Full Moon. Another thought regarding the masculine energy input is that transiting Uranus will reach 21+ Aries in April 2016. That would put him in a trine with Katrina’s Pluto (rebirth) at 21+ Sagittarius. Currently, trans. Uranus has been parked on the U.S. natal Chiron (healing wounds) who opposes the U.S. Juno (less than equal) where transiting Haumea (birthing expert) has been. No telling what ideas may be underway that will continue the rebirthing of New Orleans!!!

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author

      President Obama is in his last years and isn’t holding back. I hope that means a full rebirth for NOLA and full justice for those who lost everything, especially the sense of home and community.

      This American Life ran a series of radio stories on 10 years after Katrina, some of the tales heart breaking. The last tale was about two best friends who were young boys when the storm hit. The one who stayed and survived never knew what happened to his friend. Never heard from him until the producers got them together in a phone conversation at the conclusion of the story. While they were speaking with the voices of men, a childlike quality came through their mouths, like something lost was found again when they found each other. They were young boys again. It was a beautiful moment between souls.

  2. Len WallickLen Wallick

    Fe: Thank you for tweaking my own conscience, which all too often does not rise to the level of my spirit. Just as you put it, Katrina was the culminating observation of a realization long in coming for me – that the US Federal Government (and many other municipal subdivisions) are useless when it comes to delivering service to citizens (who pay the freight) at times of greatest need. For the most part, personal enrichment is what has become what used to be called public service. Just as with the poor (most of them people of color) who could not afford to evacuate New Orleans, many more of us are now basically on our own to form our own, ad hoc communities to meet our needs in common.

  3. Pisces SunPisces Sun

    It is true that there was an enormous amount of incompetency at all levels of government, federal, state and local but let us recall a few things: 1) it was a massive super storm, one unlike any the US had experienced in centuries that hit a region that is built in an area where it should not be built as it were, namely, it is undersea level; 2) political egos played a huge factor, the State of Louisiana refused to ask the federal government for help and the law (Stafford Act) requires such assistance to be requested for full blown federal assistance to be given without upsetting US Constitutional restraints of power; 3) there was an abundance of heroic action- for example, the Coast Guard saved tens of thousands of people from roof tops and other areas.

    I love PW but sometimes I feel that we need to be careful not to get too caught up in our own concerns to the degree that we become what we loathe so often about others which is bias. The city of NOLA is situated at the mouth of a huge river delta system that wants to empty into the Gulf of Mexico (just look at a satellite map for a great visual) and as such it carries the Mississippi River and debris which makes sink even further and further down below sea level. Fortunately, the US is beginning to look to Denmark to understand what it is to coexist in a land that wants to also be submerged by water but we haven’t been there in this understanding before, not-ever.

    With climate change other US cities are facing similar issues, namely, Miami and east and gulf coast cities with rising sea levels, again, the US is beginning to look to Denmark for engineering answers, but Denmark doesn’t suffer from Hurricanes and its associated storm surge. Let us not forget that the storm surge and levy breaks caused most of the devastation to the NOLA region.

    I do hope that you are right BE about the healing that our nation requires but any healing requires transparency and understanding too. I urge us all to be open to all of the issues that caused the devastation of Hurricane and the aftermath and all levels of the government’s response.
    Written in peace.

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author

      Pisces Sun:

      Thanks for your clarification, and yes you were right. I recall a frustrating lack of coordination by state, local and federal officials that left a lot of people stranded, and that the damage was far more than the historic levels caused by Andrew, which is what the agencies were probably prepared for.

      But it was the number of dead that exceeded anyone’s expectations and still needs to be accounted for. In the event of a major storm, what was done to strengthen the levees in the time being, particularly in vulnerable residential areas?

      If I appear to be biased, its because of the type of loss that was going on and the unceasing incompetence in dealing with the devastation. It appeared at first ham-handed, and too many people died that shouldn’t have. The bias with which I wrote could have been so much stronger.

      As Eric’s article “Katrina the Awakener” said about Katrina, upon which my follow up article was based — it was nature’s warning shot. Hurricane seasons to come are going to be worse. Since then, in comparing the loss from Sandy compared to Katrina, disaster agencies, including FEMA and the states handled it much more efficiently. This was a benefit of Katrina — people knew better. In that we are grateful, unless and until the next storm comes, which I say from here on the West Coast, anticipating a “Godzilla El Nino” any time now. Hope our pump stations hold up.

  4. Pisces SunPisces Sun

    Thanks Fe, the biases I speak of is of a cautionary nature to us all and my stating so is not the first time on this website. Yes, we need to ensure that we underscore the importance of the points that we are making but also acknowledge that the significance of Hurricane Katrina, in all of its grandest forms, had many other events that were, catastrophic, none the least was a category 5 Hurricane hitting a large metropolitan region that is under sea level.

    I speak first hand from knowledge, I was involved in its response, I know NOLA, I know of the government’s response efforts, I know of the politics involved. Nothing is simple and as much as we want to say there were biases, especially racial biases I submit that the real biases were between the State of Louisiana and the Democratic party and the federal government and the Republican Party and it was that fall out that slowed the response in the most catastrophic of all proportions, ineptitude was everywhere and nothing worked, nothing. No phone systems, no communications, no roads, no utilities, with rising water and debris, logs, cars, boats, anything that floated did and everywhere as Lake Ponchartrain rushed in because, if anyone has been to NOLA, the levy is 10 to 15 feet ABOVE the city. And it was all politicians for decades and the American public that voted them in office, i.e., us that decided a) to allow for the city to be supported by the type of levy system we used and b) to spend the billions of dollars to support such a system because quite frankly, we needed to spend billions more to have a better system. Public policy is always about tradeoffs and hedging bets and its never alone, it involves more than one body and Congress looms large.

    It is a tragedy and as is the case with all catastrophes, an “awakener” of the collective and social conscience. I do hope it prepares us for climate change and the big one to occur in the PACNORWEST, something that I am also intimately familiar- my professional field is public policy. But honestly, truth be told, we should not live in flood plains but no one wants to really take that head on but recently the Obama administration did make it difficult to even obtain flood insurance (from FEMA) but Florida is ignoring them but then again, that Governor also thinks that sea level is not rising…
    I meant no offense Fe, I just want to be sure that this website, as we continue to discuss and debate the political and social matters at hand that are so meaningful to us, is as transparent as possible by acknowledging other facts that equally, if not more, so contributed to the issue. If not, then we become distractors and disregarded by those who have no opinion or opinions in the middle ground (as we will never alter those with the most conservative of opinions anyway). Transparency breeds self-correcting behavior I once heard, I think that is likely true, at least I have seen that help in reform movements in government, which is what I believe you and others are urging. I know I am.

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author

      Pisces Sun:

      I completely agree, and I respect your experience in NOLA. I come from the public works side, so I get what you’re saying.

      There is a cascade of decisions that lead to failure of infrastructure — you see it in construction all the time. The first thing is money, the second thing is politics. There is no third thing.

      In the case of most governments, you know deferred maintenance became a constant — dribbling out your general fund moneys to “patch and pray.” After 1989 and the Loma Prieta Earthquake, we had to take more drastic measures — like pay for improvements through general obligation bonds. We like them here in earthquake country and we saved lives because of them, which provided major infrastructure care, renovation and improvement. These funds are all overseen by citizens advisory committees — not one politician in sight. And the money is spent as it should be.

      In the case of New Orleans and Louisiana, I am sure there was, to put it mildly, decades of mismanagement on state and local levels. Common corruption — which is everywhere in all government. This, in NOLA, we agree was one “patch and pray” bet too many. The recent example of Governor Christie and the revelations of federal Sandy money being “re-purposed” during the “Traffic-gate” incident comes to mind.

  5. Barbara Koehler

    I hear you Pisces Sun, and I would say transparency, understanding AND a lack of corruption in government would be required healing tools. Only from astrology do I draw my conclusions, and I lean positive. Going back to the extraordinarily long cycle of Neptune and Pluto, another key aspect (especially when viewed in a chart set in Washington DC) is Venus in Cancer at the MC square Uranus in Libra near the ascendant.

    If we view the MC as “outcome” of the cycle (when set in DC) it is Venus, in all her various roles that predominates. At 27+ Cancer, Venus opposes the U.S. Sibly natal chart’s Pluto. The U.S. Pluto then, would complete a T-square in the Neptune-Pluto chart with Venus at 27+ Cancer square Uranus at 27+ Libra. That puts the Neptune-Pluto chart’s Uranus in the position (the short leg of the T-square) to achieve compromise between the same chart’s Venus and the U.S Pluto. Then there are the People of the U.S., symbolized by the U.S. natal Moon at 27+ Aquarius that can and will support (trine aspect) this Uranus “breakthrough”, and that might come when transiting Uranus reaches 27+ Aries.

    As if time stood still, think of this newly arrived Uranus at 27+ Aries (in actuality arriving in June 2017) opposite itself (Uranus in the Neptune-Pluto chart) and forming a cardinal grand cross, along with the above mentioned U.S Pluto in Capricorn opposite the Venus in the Neptune-Pluto chart. Remember those cardinal crosses a year or so ago and how we felt? Holding first and foremost, the important fact that this Pluto-Neptune conjunction happened in the same degree of the natal U.S. Uranus at 8+ Gemini, and was about a consolidation of Plutonian energy (blowing up stuff) and Neptunian energy (making stuff disappear) in a Geminian way (maybe a data-driven magic trick), all the while native Uranus was keeping a straight face, at least on the surface. (I don’t know, I wasn’t there!)

    In June 2017, trans. Uranus reaches 27+ Aries, during a point in time that a yod will be taking place between trans. Venus in Taurus sextile Neptune in Pisces, pointing their loving energies (albeit through nudging quincunxes) toward trans. Jupiter in Libra who, at the apex of the yod, will have just stationed direct recently (so super potent), is conjunct the U.S. Saturn. Jupiter is always badgering Saturn to increase and expand, the last thing that Saturn ever wants to do, once his masterpiece is done.

    But we are in a time of flux, restless citizens, currencies gone berserk, and, in June 2017, a new sitting President in the Whitehouse. U.S. Saturn’s trying to keep his grip on things, but the natives are still out of control, some quite furious (depending on who wins, so my guess is that the Pubs are pissed) and this yod comes along, made up of sweet Venus and beguiling Neptune, backing magnanimous Jupiter who is conjunct recalcitrant natal U.S. Saturn. Who’s gonna win, Saturn or Jupiter?

    Remember, transiting Uranus in Aries is awakening the Pluto-Neptune energies (now opposite his own position in that chart, a cycle that has been at work since 1891) pitting lovely Venus ($$$) in Cancer (homeland) against U.S. Pluto (power) in Capricorn (government), while he, transiting Uranus, opposite himself, a kind of full moon experience. . lots of light on the subject. And so the 2 faces of Uranus form a cardinal cross with U.S. Pluto and the 1891 Venus. It is a time of reckoning. We have a new President, maybe the 1st woman President in U.S. history. History is happening.

    Finally, the 1891 chart for the start of the Neptune-Pluto cycle we are in had an opposition between Saturn in Virgo (fix things right) at 15+ degrees, and Jupiter in Pisces (too much water) at 16+ degrees. Transiting Neptune in June 2017 has just stationed retrograde at 14+ Pisces (remember this trans. Neptune is sextile Venus and they are getting Jupiter to “adjust”, and Jupiter is conjunct the U.S. Saturn) and will not turn direct until November that year. (That will be a time when trans. Pluto is conjunct the Uranus-Neptune conjunction degree – 18+ Capricorn – from 1993 but we won’t deal with that right now.)

    It won’t be until May, 2018, that trans. Neptune reaches 16+ Pisces, the degree where Jupiter (who opposed Saturn) in the Neptune-Pluto chart was. At that very moment, transiting Uranus (he who stimulated the Neptune-Pluto chart’s square between himself and Venus) will have reached the sign of Taurus. . . ruled by Venus who was on the MC of the Neptune-Pluto (1891) chart who opposed the U.S. Pluto. It will be a time, 2 weeks before a full Moon at 8+ Sagittarius, which will oppose the U.S Uranus in Gemini (conjunct the Sun opposite the FM) . . and . . where the Pluto-Neptune conjunction of 1891 started it’s grand and glorious cycle. Get it? Venus rules!

    These things take time.

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