Reading Peter Greenberg’s post about New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward tours brought back thoughts and memories of our tour in 2010.
We went on the Katrina Tour on our last vacation day in New Orleans. My husband wasn’t feeling well, and the weather was a nasty blend of rain and wind.
We had already marveled at NOLA’s main highlights, sampled the incredible Creole cuisine, paid our pilgrimage to Cafe du Monde’s beignets and cruised the Natchez down the Mississippi.
However, it was the visit to the devastated Ninth Ward we found the most compelling and memorable out of the entire trip.
Roll back five years: our kids were twelve and ten-year-olds when Katrina struck New Orleans in September of 2005. We all became glued to our TV sets as the reports continued to pour in of the massive destruction, panic, and helplessness in the city. You just couldn’t escape the intense media coverage.
It became the topic of conversations in the workplace, school settings even in our home. Our son with autism was extremely affected, almost obsessed by the subject.
It was the first time he had been exposed to a disaster of this magnitude (he had been only seven during the 9/11 attacks and did not remember them).
He and his younger brother decided to organize a yard sale (the first one we’d ever haD) and sell some of their most prized possessions, including his Disney DVD collection he loved. Other neighborhood kids chipped in, and the yard sale( proceeds went to the American Red Cross) ended up a huge success.
Our Ninth Ward Tour
So five years later, when we visited Nola for our first time, booking the Katrina tour was on our ‘Must -Do’ list! We all wanted to see the rebuilding progress made not as a way to scratch it off some imaginary travel bucket list but to express our on-going support for the people who had endured that awful first week of September 2005.
The tour started with a view of Lake Pontchartrain and its refurbished levees as a backdrop to some powerful images to come.
We were first taken to observe the newly built homes. Seeing these neighborhoods was a heartwarming experience – akin to witnessing a green leaf resurface on a plant that survived an incredibly harsh winter. But then the tour proceeds to drive through the non-refurbished areas with marked doorways, and wood boarded windows.
Coming from California and having completed our CERT (community emergency response team) courses, we recognized the grim meaning of the black markings still visible on the doors marking the number of the living or dead persons found house after house. And that’s when the enormity of it all hit us.
It is such a different experience to watch gruesome news reports unfold on TV than to have to face it in person. And that’s where I have to admit the tour did an excellent job in making us understand the discrepancy between what the recovery made and what was still needed to be completed.
Over the past years, I have heard some criticizing these tours as “exploiting the devastation and the people living in the run-down neighborhoods.” I respectfully beg to differ.
For us as travelers and parents to an autistic teen, it provided an extraordinary visual aid of the ravages and suffering a natural disaster can inflict, first hand. It turned out to be an excellent way to start the conversation and educate the kids about the importance of helping fellow citizens.
It also contributed to raising awareness to the steps we can take as individuals to protect ourselves against natural disasters
Just like other sites of immeasurable human tragedy around the world, the Lower Ninth Ward should be remembered not so much as a symbol of destruction but as a testament of human determination and endurance.
I, for one ,would like to see these tours continued and expanded to include featured docents relating personal experiences with pertinent monetary proceeds donated to help rebuild the shattered communities.