Recalling Katrina three years later

By Amber B. Carter

After growing up in Shropshire, England, and achieving college degrees from universities in England, Canada and the United States, sociology professor Dr. James Dickinson set his sights on New Orleans.

When he heard about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina through all forms of media, Dickinson made his way to Louisiana to visit friends and took the opportunity to write for Designer/builder magazine. He wrote “Still Swept Away: New Orleans Four Months After Katrina” for the March/April 2006 edition. This article includes his photographs of hurricane-ravaged parishes just days after the streets were cleared for the residents to return to their homes.

“To those now-familiar vistas of ruination in America — inner city blight and Kudzu-encrusted Southern dereliction — we must add a third kind, the flooded and depopulated city,” Dickinson wrote. “Unlike the first two, which evolved in response to factors such as suburbanization and globalization, this new landscape was created in a flash, in the few days it took the city to fill with water.”

Dickinson’s second article, “Gulf Coast Blues: FEMA’s Botched Plans for Emergency Housing After Katrina,” was written for the September/October 2006 edition.

“They discover the layout and amenities of the travel trailer — galley kitchen, cubbyhole bunk beds, minuscule toilet facilities, floor and ceiling just an arm’s reach apart — have more in common with pleasure boats tied up at the local marina than the spacious homes to which they are accustomed,” he wrote.

Dickinson said he chose to write for Designer/builder magazine because it takes a critical look at the way humans put together the societies in which they live, including everything from shops, houses and roads to the style of the houses and the impact of what people build and the effects the buildings have on them.

“Designer/builder magazine is written for a broad readership in a way that is comprehensible to the ordinary reader,” said Dickinson. “It makes a particular point with its articles and writing to address issues in the built environment that affect people’s lives. They are of interest to planners and architects as well as group leaders and activists.”

Dickinson believes that the FEMA procedures used to evacuate the residences of New Orleans before Hurricane Gustav showed great improvement over those conducted during Katrina.

“It has been three years of total criticism [since] Hurricane Katrina,” said Dickinson. “This was a real test case for the Bush administration. It’s an election year so the last thing they want is another Hurricane Katrina-type situation.”

Although the majority of residences were evacuated in time to avoid another tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina, Gustav was still a challenge. The evacuation centers had no running water and many who were evacuated had an unpleasant experience.

“The next time there is a hurricane, you won’t get such compliance with mandatory evacuations,” Dickinson said. “People will say they don’t want to go through being picked up by bus, traveling hours and hours, then being stuck out there for days and days or being on the road, spending hundreds of dollars a day on food and hotels. The real test will come when the next hurricane comes where the call to evacuate may not be so well subscribed to.”

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