Hurricane Katrina, Three Years Later: A New Memoir And An Approaching Storm

Illustration for article titled Hurricane Katrina, Three Years Later: A New Memoir And An Approaching Storm

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, there's a new storm on the horizon: The latest on Gustav is that it could hit the coast of Louisiana — and New Orleans — with a similar impact. Earlier this week, Salon ran an interview with Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc, a woman who's considered the breakout "star" of Spike Lee's 2006 documentary When The Levees Broke. Montana-LeBlanc has written a memoir — completed over the last two years, in her FEMA trailer. She's let go of much of her anger. "You can continue to hate and blame, but that's not constructive," she says. "You have to get past it at some point. At the time, all the dead bodies [I saw in the media reports] were African-Americans. And when it's just black body after black body you start to wonder if all those people who died were white — if their lives were considered 'more valid' by the people in charge — maybe you would have seen a quicker response. Honestly, I still wonder if more people would have been saved."I encourage you all to read the entire interview with Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc, but here are some excerpts: On her "rescue" experience:


…A helicopter came by and we were like, "We can go now, we're saved." They came right in front of our faces, and the [pilot] looked at me, but they left. I couldn't believe they were leaving us and they were that close. But my thinking afterward, after reason hit, was that there was only 5 feet of water [where we were] and they had to go and get other people who were in more dire need. I understand that now.

On elected officials:

I don't know why George Bush keeps coming down here. He should have paid us a real visit three years ago. I guess I'd just ask him if he's seen the documentary. Everything I wanted to say to him is in there. And as for John McCain? My mom always told me if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

What she thinks New Orleans needs:

We need someone who's going to come in here and immediately take advantage of that energy to help people to rebuild. We're taxpayers. Not everybody in [New Orleans] is poor. A lot of people work and pay taxes. If the government supports us and works with us, we'll come back.


On her life now:

We spent nearly three years in a FEMA trailer set up on my sister Catherine's property, but five months ago we finally got our own place. The old apartment we were living in had been fixed up — it looks like nothing ever happened to it — but [instead of going back there] my husband and I bought a new home. It's wonderful. I still haven't gotten used to the space yet, after so long in that trailer. But we're back in eastern New Orleans, where we always were. Personally, I feel like I'm finally moving forward.


This is a clip of Ms. Montana-LeBlanc in When The Levees Broke, nearly shedding tears as she recalls trying to call 911, only to find that they were "not taking any calls." Also from When The Levees Broke: Newscaster Soledad O'Brien found FEMA director Michael Brown's lack of intelligence "baffling." In this clip, she interviews him and seems not only frustrated but confused and shocked as to why he is calm and collected in the midst of a major crisis. Again, from When The Levees Broke: Dr. Ben Marble, a resident of Gulfport, Mississippi, famously told Dick Cheney: "Go fuck yourself." Hope Floats [Salon] Related: Hurricane Gustav Tracker [] Gustav Nears Jamaica As New Orleans Keeps Watch [AP] When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts [HBO] When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts Not Just the Levees Broke: My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina By Phyllis Montana-Leblanc [Atria Books]



I just have one question: what in the world has induced people to go back to that place?

I mean, the whole place is below sea level, and continues to sink. All political issues aside, the levees have only been repaired back to the way they were. There is no sane reason for anyone to have moved back into that death trap. Leave the historical stuff there (that stuff is on high ground) and move the city up the river and leave nature to reclaim its own. The hurricanes aren't going to stop coming, and its only a matter of time.