Post-Katrina racial tensions rise amid reports of weaker hurricane

Amid reports that hurricane experts now believe that Katrina was only category 3 strength when it hit–within the rated strength of the levees which collapsed–Gina Blandin, a bartender at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter, believes “they blew up those levees and let the water come in … to get all of us black people out of the city.”

The plot, according to those who believe it, was to use the deadly hurricane to transform this majority-black city into a whiter, richer place. And everything that has happened since–the delays in reopening the poorest districts, the shuttering of the city’s public housing projects, the sluggish delivery of federal storm aid, the mass layoff of the city’s mostly black municipal workforce–has only reinforced the fear of many exiled black residents that New Orleans will be reconstructed without them.

The New Orleans area is known for racism; a neighboring county elected David Duke to the state legislature as recently as 1989.

After Katrina hit, officials of the nearly all-white parish of St. Bernard, bordering New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, ordered rail cars dragged across the roads as a blockade. In Gretna, a majority-white suburb just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, police officers stood guard to turn back New Orleanians trying to flee across the Crescent City Bridge.

The Urban Land Institute has “bluntly recommended writing off huge swaths of the city and postponing their resettlement far into the future so that less heavily damaged neighborhoods might be resuscitated first.” To be written off are “some of the city’s most historic and vibrant black neighborhoods.” According to Blandin:

“The hurricane was completely over, and you go to sleep and the next morning there’s water everywhere. How did that happen?” she said. “Why else would it have happened at night? The French Quarter got no water. They knew what they were doing.” … “I was on my front porch,” Dyan French told the House committee probing the response to Katrina. “I have witnesses that say they bombed the walls of the levee. And the debris that’s in front of my door will testify to that.”

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