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August 29, 2005: the day my whole life changed. Three years later, another hurricane is getting ready to take aim at New Orleans. It really is the city that care forgot. On our last few trips back, the city really seemed to be on the verge of thriving again. Uptown and the Quarter are doing fantastic, all the restaurants are back open (some under new ownership), the bars are doing well, and many musicians have returned. Friends with homes in Gentilly have just moved back in. Everyone is working, raising (or starting)  families, and generally doing very well. We were plannng to move back in five or six years, after I finish grad school. There are rumors at Monte's work that he might become kind of a team leader, a move that would definitely help us financially. I got hired for my first choice position, and it's exactly where I need to work to get into my graduate program in a few years. We're house hunting here in Tampa (well, St. Pete, actually), and if we can buy at the current low prices, we should be able to make enough of a profit by the time I finish grad school that we could buy in our old neighborhood in New Orleans. Life has been going pretty well, considering we had to uproot our lives and move to some strange place we'd never set foot in before.

If the levees fail again...that's a prospect no one wants to consider, but it's very real. The Army Corps of Engineers swears they're "back to pre-Katrina strength" - but that was just strong enough to flood the whole city when it was missed by a little category three storm in 2005. I've heard the pumps aren't functioning correctly yet. Another near direct hit might destroy New Orleans for good. George W is still in office, so we can assume the federal government's reaction will be as timely and effectual as it was three years ago. Jindal and Nagin seem to have some kind of a plan in place this time, but I feel like refusing to open up the Superdome could kill a lot of people. "Encouraging" people to evacuate does nothing to help the people who can't get out on their own. I just spoke with a good friend who doesn't own a car at the moment, so she and her boyfriend are stuck trying to bum a ride out of town with three pets. Another is flying out tonight - if she's able to get a cab to the airport. Others are flocking towards the lower Garden District, knowing that it stayed dry last time. The storm is still a long way off - right now, it's heading towards the Cayman Islands, where another friend of ours is choosing to weather the storm. It still may go to Texas or to the Panhandle, both of which should keep New Orleans relatively dry. God I hate hurricanes.

We've been fine in Tampa so far - but we've also been lucky. Hanna looks like it may come towards FL, but it would make landfall on the other coast. However, it's not even September. The toughest two months of hurricane season still remain. Why don't we learn? We moved from one flood-prone area to another, we currently live walking distance from the Bay, and are planning to buy a house on a skinny peninsula. I know there are disasters in every part of the country - flooding took out half the campus of my brother's alma mater in Iowa this year. Who could have predicted that? Prior to 2005 I never really worried about the weather. I grew up in a blizzard-prone area, and a tornado came straight through Edina (the nearest suburb) and close to my parents house when I was small. I moved to NO, and stayed put during several threatened storms. We were under a voluntary evacuation last week for Fay, but the 20 minutes of rain that we got didn't really seem worth leaving for. In Florida, it's hard to leave - to be "safe" you have to get out of the state entirely, and I've heard many stories from long-time residents who've accidentally evacuated right into the path of a storm. There isn't really a right answer about evacuation until that 20/20 hindsight kicks in. I've been lucky enough to have made the right choice the one time evacuation was necessary, and can hope that my luck holds. I'll be watching the weather closely during the upcoming week, and thinking about the city I will always consider to be my home.


Maura White

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