Friday, May 30, 2008

Running in New Orleans and Katrina

As I sit in the New Orleans Airport waiting for my flight back to Boston, I thought I'd drop a few notes about running down here in the Crescent City.

I've never been to New Orleans before and know little about it past a big party spot on Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras, Super Bowls and Hurricane Katrina. I always like to go for runs when I am traveling for work, as I feel like I get to see the real part of a city instead of just an airport and a hotel. If I am not familiar with the city I'll post a message on to find out about good running routes. The recomendation for New Orleans was to get to St. Charles Street and run on the grass strips along the Trolley tracks.

This was a very cool running route. I was running through the Garden District part of the city and felt fortunate to find grass to run on right smack in the middle of the city. At first I wondered was it ok to run right down the trolley tracks (i.e. on the tracks) but then soon discovered that everyone runs there. You just keep your eyes out for trolleys and move to the other tracks if one is coming.

The French architecture in the Garden District was beautiful, lots of historic buildings and houses to see. I wondered how bad the heat would be and learned the hard way that 87 degrees and 60 percent humidity was not the best conditions to do a long run in, but I managed, my body longing for the nice cool temps back in NH. When I went to run in the mornings at 6AM, it was "only 75" but still incredibly humid. I realize I could never live down here, I would wilt from this humidity.

The rest of my time in New Orleans was enjoyable, I got to sample all of the local foods, giving me plenty of reasons to get out and run to burn off the calories. The people I have met here have all been super friendly, lots of Southern hospitality.

OK, on to the memories that will stick in my brain forever-- As I was running along, I saw signs along the streettes that said "Evacuation Route" which made me think of Katrina and all of the damage it did down here. Things looked pretty good where I was and I was glad to see how much the city had rebuilt.

The next day, at the end of the conference I was at for work, I got to go for a ride with some colleagues down to the 9th Ward to see the real damage from Katrina. It's images I will never forget. Entire neighborhoods are gone, nothing but foundations left in many of them, old street lights ripped off their posts, utility lines sticking out of the sidewalk. Some have bravely rebuilt, leaving kind of a surreal image of new housing in the middle of a block of overgrown foundations. You still see houses that are nothing but piles of rubble, with condemned signs on them waiting to be torn down. A lot of the houses and buildings still have the spray painted codes on them from when the search crews went through the neighborhoods- you see the "TFW', meaning te building contained Toxic Flood Water, signs indicating how many dead animals and people inside the houses and what room the bodies are in.

It really struck me how damage the whole area still looks, especially when you consider that it was almost 3 years ago that the hurricane occurred.

We also drove along the levees and when you see them, you are left with thoughts that they still look woefully low and inadequate to hold back a hurricane. Katrina recovery is still all over the news down here- new engineering reviews of rebuilt levees and concerns that they are no better than they were before and that all of it could happen again with one bad storm. Watching the weather on TV, you see hurricane coverage like you see snow storm coverage near us, you get the feeling people will always be lookng over their shoulder waiting for the next big storm. This isn't news that makes its way on the National scene anymore but you can tell its very much on people's minds here.

As I leave New Orleans, I can only hope that people who lost everything will continue to persevere and rebuild. Parts of the city are incredibly beautiful but you also get the impression that large chunks of the worst hit areas will never completely recover, both from their losses and from the feeling that when they needed their government's help the most, they felt abandoned- and many still do. Those destroyed neighborhoods are an image that will never leave me memory.


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