Haitians living in New Orleans who went through Katrina seem stuck in a disaster loop watching coverage of the earthquake's destruction in the native country. But they also see cause for hope: Unlike the much-maligned response to Katrina, the U.S. government's reaction to the disaster in Haiti has been swift.
NEW ORLEANS — Alone in a home once flooded with 5 feet of water by Hurricane Katrina, Pierre Confident watched the television images of collapsed buildings, the dead piled on the streets, limbs hanging from the rubble of Haiti, his homeland. His life was stuck in a disaster loop.
“It’s a nightmare. I’m hoping it’s a dream, but I know it’s not,” Confident, who’s lived in New Orleans for two decades, said last week, his eyes red with stress. “It could have been me. I’m lucky to be living here.”
Looking at his fellow Haitians without homes, the 48-year-old electrical engineer added: “They wish they had a flooded home to live in.”
Haitians living in New Orleans also see cause for hope: Unlike the much-maligned response to Katrina, the U.S. government’s reaction to the disaster in Haiti has been swift.
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“The initiation is there,” said Fenelle Guillaume, a Haitian who, like Confident, has lived in New Orleans for more than 20 years and saw her home inundated during Katrina. “They have started doing something compared to what happened here in Katrina.”
Confident also noted that the Haitian death toll is much higher than during Katrina. The storm killed about 1,600 people.
The death toll in Haiti could reach 200,000, according to estimates from the European Commission that cited Haitian government figures.
“You didn’t see bodies all over New Orleans,” Confident said. “You can see the people suffering (in Haiti). I guess Bush didn’t understand the extent of it (Katrina). He didn’t see dead bodies. Every corner (of Port-au-Prince), there are dead bodies.”
He was anxious to hear about news from towns outside Port-au-Prince; places like Petit-Goave, where he was born, about 40 miles west.
Having lived through Katrina and the slow rebuilding of New Orleans, Confident predicted a tough recovery for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
“Look at New Orleans,” he said. “After five years, look at where we are. In Haiti, it will take a long, long time (to rebuild). The government is nonexistent right now. They will have to stay in tents for months, maybe years.”
The Katrina disaster still reverberates through Confident’s house. The kitchen remains unfinished. Through his rear sliding door, an abandoned home with tattered blue tarp still on its roof came into view. His mother, who lived with him before Katrina, relocated to Florida after the storm.
For Haitians like Confident who suffered the destruction of Katrina more than four years ago, the earthquake has brought back a barrage of memories, bad feelings and heartache. About 5,000 people of Haitian descent live in the New Orleans area, which owes much of its cultural identity to that nation’s transplants who began arriving in the 18th century.
“They brought the rhythm and soul of New Orleans,” said Sallie Ann Glassman, a Voodoo priestess in New Orleans. “That’s why New Orleans dances to a different rhythm from the rest of the country.”
It’s not the first disaster to hit Haiti since Katrina, either: In 2008, a string of floods pelted the country, causing floods that left hundreds dead.
Shortly after the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, President Obama began sending supplies, rescue crews and the military. Obama also pledged $100 million for relief.
By comparison, former President George W. Bush was faulted for taking several days to order the military into New Orleans after Katrina.
“We saw what happened during Katrina and Obama is certainly not going to let the same mistakes be made that Bush was so heavily criticized for,” said John Renne, a disaster planning expert at the University of New Orleans.