Katrina: Baghdad on the Bayou

Some NOLA evacuees believe the levees were blown up to destroy poor black neighborhoods. Boing Boing readers may recall previous posts here recounting "man-in-the-'dome" comments to that effect, and the rumors appear widespread among some evacuee populations. They also appear in Ben Ehrenreich's LA Weekly story, "Baghdad on the Bayou", excerpt follows. (photo above: evacuees in Astrodome, not persons referenced in this story, by Jacob Appelbaum.)
In the Houston Astrodome last Saturday, I met a man named Robert. He invited me to take a seat beside him on a cot pushed against the wall - his home for the previous three days and the foreseeable future. Robert had lived in New Orleans for all of his 55 years, and was in the St. Bernard projects when Katrina washed it all away. "After the storm," he told me almost as soon as I sat down, "they blew the levees up so they could flood New Orleans." I asked him who "they" were.

"The money people," he answered. "The big money." "Why?" I asked.

Robert shook his head at my naiveté. "They had to get the poor people out so they could get the space." He gestured to the thousands of people in the dome around us, almost all of them African-American, crammed onto cots a few inches apart. "Now they got their space.

"We survived the storm," Robert went on. "We survived the wind and the rain. After the storm passed, the water started rising, and all you heard was 'Boom!' " The explosions, he said, were the levees blowing. "Ask any of these people. The hurricane wasn't that bad, but the opportunity came up."

It was a real estate grab, Robert explained - gentrification with a genocidal edge. And if he was more than slightly paranoid - he didn't want to tell me his last name, and grew visibly nervous when a white stadium employee began sweeping the floor within earshot a few feet away - his theory made a certain kind of sense, far more than any of the official excuses for government inaction. I would later hear similar speculations again and again in New Orleans, and saw them written on the walls. Just across the canal from the flooded 9th Ward, on a corner heavy with the scent of death, these words were scrawled across an abandoned garage: "Fuck Bush They Fucking Left Us Here Them Bitches Flooded Us . . . Them Bitches Killed Our People."

(...)The first time he came across any soldiers, Washington told me, they trained their rifles on him. I heard the same complaint from others, and it was easy to imagine. Squads from the 82nd Airborne patrolled the deserted New Orleans streets as if playing at urban warfare, M-16s at the ready. Of course, they weren't playing. Armored cars bristling with weaponry swerved around the corners. Rifle barrels protruded from the windows of passing SUVs. At the staging ground at the base of Canal Street - the most secure spot in the city if not the entire nation - hundreds of officials milled about lugging shotguns and automatic rifles as if expecting the Mahdi Army. Among thousands of soldiers and police from every imaginable government agency, I twice saw groups of heavily armed men in khaki fatigues wearing T-shirts that read "Blackwater." A city was submerged, hundreds of thousands homeless, and the feds called in the mercenaries.

Link (via Ned Sublette)

Previously: "Rape, murder, beatings" in Astrodome, say evacuees

NEW: Bloggers Eduardo Arcos and Antonio Delgado translated that collection of evacuee comments into Spanish: Link

Reader comment: Stefan says,

Regarding the explosions, I live in Florida and went through three hurricanes last year. You often hear explosions during a hurricane. It's usually transformers shorting out. The "bangs" are quite impressive and can be heard long distances. I don't know the time line for when areas of NOLA lost power, but that could explain what they heard.