Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and Haitian History

Our hearts go out to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. For those who care to donate, I have added a link to the American Red Cross at the top right of this blog. For those missing loved ones or looking for further information about the aftermath of the storm, Rex Hammock’s Weblog has a list of survivor/missing databases, and a wiki, ThinkNOLA has been set up as a clearinghouse of information and resources.

There are also several blogs and other online sources who are providing information. has been an excellent resource. Also check out Metroblogging New Orleans, Kaye’s Hurricane Katrina Blog, the Hurricane Katrina page at Wikipedia, Eye of the Storm, Storm Digest, and the links here and here.

While much of the Gulf Coast has been affected by Katrina, New Orleans in particular has been the subject of intense focus. The city’s history is inextricably linked with Haiti’s own. The port of New Orleans was coveted by American traders in the late 1700s as the revolution in Haiti was being fought. Toussaint Louverture’s successes against the French troops attempting to retake the island contributed to Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803. You can read more about the dynamics at play in the Louisiana Purchase in this article at the Louverture Project wiki.

Carl A. Brasseaux at the University of Louisiana’s Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism points out that:

Haitian immigrants have established a significant community in New Orleans over the past two decades. These emigrants from Hispañola are by no means the first to reach Louisiana. During a six-month period in 1809, approximately 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) arrived at New Orleans, doubling the Crescent City’s population. Approximately one-third of the refugees were white, an additional one-third were free persons of color, and the remaining one-third were slaves (primarily domestics). The vast majority of these refugees established themselves permanently in the Crescent City.

The early nineteenth-century immigrants had a profound impact upon New Orleans’ development. Refugees established the state’s first newspaper and introduced opera into the Crescent City. They also appear to have played a role in the development of Creole cuisine and the perpetuation of voodoo practices in the New Orleans area. More importantly, they were responsible for preserving the city’s French character for several generations.

This article at Slate attempts to explain why New Orleans came to be built where it is, below sea level and surrounded by massive levies. Some are asking whether New Orleans should be rebuilt. I can only imagine that those who ask that have never visited the city. There is a certain kind of magic there, and an undeniably unique sense of history. For all Americans, and especially the Haitian American residents of New Orleans, the city must survive and rebuild. To lose the Big Easy would be to lose a part of our soul, and to destroy a vital link between Haiti and America.

2 thoughts on “Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and Haitian History”

  1. Without specifying the dollar cost and sources, it is easy to say there are cultural and historic motivations to rebuild New Orleans at its original location. It was a charming city. The results of this storm make plain to more-objecive non-Louisiana taxpayers, many of whom have lived or visited there, that same-site rebuilding would be foolish in the extreme. The economic base of the city has eroded over the past 40 years or so. Those who left didn’t go to low-lying places. Who is to fund affordable housing for even half of the 500,000 people who lived there before Katrina? Where will the jobs come from for returned refugees, and when? How would rebuilding in this flood bowl be equitable to myriad other communities which have learned that you don’t rebuild in a flood plain? I can’t imagine being convinced that the city should be rebuilt where it was without a thorough feasibility study from the Dutch, who alone have calculated the risks and costs and been willing to spend the time and enormous sums and created the cutting-edge engineering to make living below sea level work. Fickle Congress and the Corps of Engineers need a reality check.

  2. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of an effort from the city of new Orleans and State of Louisiana to pressure teh State Department to increase Haitian migration to Louisiana in the wake of the two disasters. Thousands of Haitians still lack adequate housing and large areas of New Orleans are still depopulated. It would be great to hear colonial French spoken again in the Ninth Ward (and an easy way for Louisiania’s CODOFIL to fulfill its mission of promoting the French language in Louisiana!).

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