Levees.org supporters respond to NY Times editor’s defense of calling Katrina a ‘natural disaster’

In this 2009 photo, the water line is visible on this Lakeview neighborhood home in New Orleans

Levees.org believes in the media, and that’s why we work with editors and help them get the story right about Katrina and the metro New Orleans flooding.

So we asked our nearly 25,000 supporters to write to Greg Brock, senior editor of the New York Times in response to his defense of calling Katrina a ‘natural disaster.’ We were compelled to do this because Mr. Brock closed his defense with this observation:

“I think all the families who were displaced and who lost loved ones would agree that a hurricane did exist.”

Re-printed with permission, below is a letter to Mr. Brock sent at 9:08am CST on May 5, 2010 from a supporter.

While I don’t entirely take exception with Ms. Helene Cooper’s original article about presidential administrations and natural disasters – I think there’s some gray area since Mr. Bush’s response would have been to both a natural event (Katrina) and an engineering event (New Orleans flooding). However, I am dismayed by your response to one reader when you say “I think all the families who were displaced and who lost loved ones would agree that a hurricane did exist.”

I was displaced from my home for two years. While a hurricane did exist, a hurricane, alone, was not the cause of my home’s flooding. Hurricane Katrina wouldn’t have done more than pull off a few shingles and maybe collect a little water in my backyard had the levees near my house been designed and built properly. Yes, a hurricane existed. But that’s the same as saying a rain storm existed. The hurricane did not flood my home. An engineering disaster did.

Please understand that New Orleanians like myself aren’t just trying to mince words. We’ve literally fought for nearly five years to get the public to understand the difference. I’ve been criticized for rebuilding where I do by people who have never stepped foot in New Orleans. I’ve been told it was crazy to move here in the first place. But it’s not my fault that levees were built improperly nor is it my fault that our wetlands have been decimated (and obviously continue to be decimated) by oil companies.

Your flip answer in a what I can only imagine was a moment of frustration is hurtful to New Orleanians. In general, I think the NYT has done a good job in covering the aftermath of the Federal Flood. There’s no doubt that there is a kinship between New Orleanians and New Yorkers. But please, don’t think that words do not hurt. Don’t think that even though we have carried on, that there is not still a painful collective wound from the flooding and the lack of response following it. It’s not a situation that can be lumped into being “just” a hurricane and “only” a natural disaster. What happened was much more.

Best regards,
Dee Boling
New Orleans

Ms. Boling is one of the founding members of Levees.org. At the time of this publication, Mr. Brock, senior editor of standards had not yet responded. Should he respond, we will update this blog post.

Click here for the subject letter:

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