Seaview plays refuge for Gulf evacuees

<I>ELIZABETH LONG photo</I><BR>Michael Love and Micah Kibodeaux stand behind the van they drove cross-country away from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

PENINSULA - President George W. Bush says he accepts responsibility for systematic failures of the emergency response systems and FEMA that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Louisiana. Displaced New Orleans residents Michael Love and Micah Kibodeaux agree wholeheartedly.

They say the blame for the resulting disaster rests squarely on Bush's shoulders. Not only because of the slow response to the immediate crisis, but because of years of his faulty policies which weakened FEMA by placing it under the Office of Homeland Security, siphoned funds from needed levee repair projects, and favored oil interests and development over coastline protection and preservation.

Kibodeau, a Louisiana native, expresses his opinion rather succinctly. "**** Bush," he said. "It's time for a change."

Love, a widower, had lived in Seaview years before with his wife of 23 years, Aysha. She wanted a quiet place to write about her field of study, emotional intelligence, or people's varied abilities to deal with their own and others emotions and respond accordingly. What she taught him, he said, is helping him cope with his current situation as an evacuee. He remembered the area fondly and still has friends in the area.

When it became apparent they could not return to their homes for some time, they met up at Kibodeaux's parents home 200 miles from New Orleans, gathered together friends and family, and decided to head across country in a van they had rented as part of their evacuation plan.

"It's really been an interesting experience," said Love. "It's been intense."

After dropping off some family members with friends who live in Roslyn, the two decided to continue their rolling stone existence and visit California for a while.

They stopped for several nights at the Sou'wester Lodge in Seaview and are very thankful and appreciative for the generosity and kindness shown by lodge owners Len and Miram Atkins.

They say their experience has highlighted a lot of important issues, exposing how poorly government agencies could manage such a disaster, despite years of preparation after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and billions of dollars spent.

Love's daughter, Magenta, remained in the French Quarter during the hurricane. She told her father that area was not seriously impacted by the storm and there was little damage, until later.

He said his daughter told him "it degenerated into pure hell."

She described it as pure mayhem and total anarchy, like a scene out of Somalia, with people loaded down with guns driving around in the backs of pickup trucks. She said there were reports from police of bodies on the streets, but they were not drowning victims, their bodies were full of bullets.

Then the levees began to breach, but word did not get out. Because the storm had moved on, people thought the danger had passed, so did not leave.

"They knew the levees were compromised Monday but didn't say anything," said Love. "People drown in their beds."

He said Wal-Mart arrived with truckloads of drinking water, but were prevented from delivering them to the victims by FEMA official concerned about liability issues. The first relief workers to make it to the scene and provide help were not from the U.S., but, ironically, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

"If they (FEMA) had gotten in there when they should, this never would have happened," said Love referring to the looting and chaos.

Kibodeaux, whose Cajun background is apparent from the gently musical cadence of his speech, said there are a lot of similarities and tremendous connections between the Peninsula and New Orleans. "This is kind of the ocean version of the French Quarters," he said. He points out that the birds that summer here fly to the South for the winter.

The University of New Orleans graduate student also sees similarities in the ecology of the two areas, and is concerned about the outcome of the "develop or preserve" debates here. He said a lot of the storm damage resulted from environmental degradation, which could be prevented here with some planning and forethought.

"The water was so high because marshlands are sinking as a direct result of oil pumping," he said. "It goes to show how much the oil industry is destroying Louisiana." Marshlands would have helped buffer the effects of stormsurges, reducing the flooding, the main cause of damage, by absorbing and redirecting the water, just as the dunes would help protect against the effects of a tsunami.

"It's highly unintelligent to build on the dunes," he warns the Peninsula, concerned a similar natural disaster could occur here. "Those dunes are there for a reason. Commercialization is not a good thing."

Love agrees. "You can only screw with the resources so much and then its going to kick back," he said. "This isn't radical stuff, this is common sense."

"It's time for a change," Kibodeaux repeated.

Kibodeaux also strongly disagrees with Bush's foreign policies, which he believes are driven by oil interests. "I draw a direct parallel between what the oil industry did to Louisiana and what they are doing to Iraq." He said the tremendous costs of those policies resulted in the diversion of funds originally earmarked for levee repair. If the levees had not failed, the damage would have been significantly less.

After watching Bush's hurricane recovery speech from Jackson Square in the heart of New Orleans, both expressed skepticism.

"He's saying what he should say, what he has to say to save his ass," said Love. "He's got very good script writers."

Suddenly, Bush is promising to address the issue of poverty in that region said Love, but pointed out the federal government has known about the problem for a long time, and did nothing. Love believes the current interest is a political move designed to cover Bush's disregard for minorities and the poor and his desire to maintain a class system, protecting the rich with tax cuts while ignoring the poor and disenfranchised.

"I seriously believe what they did was deliberate," Love said of the evacuation and slow response. Large numbers of people remained in the city because they had no resources to evacuate and no place to go. No mass transportation was arranged for those without cars. No centers were opened for those without money to rent a motel. They were stuck, even if they did want to leave.

Kibodeaux agrees with the charge of governmental discrimination. As proof, he said residents of Orleans Parish, which contains the city proper on high ground though with poorer neighborhoods and a 70 percent black population, were not allowed back to their homes to check on their belongings. Meanwhile, residents of Jefferson parish, an outlying suburb on lower ground that is predominantly white and upper middle-class, were allowed back.

Kibodeaux also questions Bush's promise of federal aid for the victims.

"He's was just saying everything he should," he said. "We would have gotten the same speech from any president."

He said he had been trying to apply for the promised aid from FEMA for more than two weeks, and "I have not seen a penny from the federal government."

Although Kibodeaux said this experience is the hardest thing he has ever had to endure, he knows the heart of New Orleans still beats and residents will return. Mardi Gras will not be cancelled. In fact, he said, it will be the best ever, demonstrating the city's resiliency and the strength and character of its citizens.

In the meantime, he's going to follow another of the region's traditional responses to hardship.

"I'm going to keep partying," he said with a smile, "keep celebrating life."

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