Title: Oral History Interview with Lee Boe, June 2, 2006. Interview U-0224.
Interviewer: Shelborne, Elizabeth
Interviewee: Boe, Lee
Abstract: Lee Boe describes his experiences with Hurricane Katrina and its effects on his native St. Bernard Parish. Boe was raised in the predominantly lower-middle-class and middle-class white community. Not foreseeing the full breadth of the disaster that Katrina would bring, Boe remained in New Orleans with his brother and two dogs during the storm. Unlike in previous storms, floodwaters rose rapidly and did not recede (though Boe refutes any allegations that the levees were intentionally destroyed). Boe describes his attempts, with his brother and pets, to seek higher ground, first at the St. Bernard Courthouse, then at the St. Bernard jailhouse. He describes the emotional and physical toll the heat, lack of food, and lack of electricity took on the storm evacuees. When city officials turned the jail into a makeshift hospital for Chalmette De La Ronde hospital patients, storm evacuees were ferried to Algiers Point to wait for transportation outside of New Orleans. Miscommunication by officials, along with disorganization in the dispersal of food and water, angered the refugees. Boe argues that Louisiana politicians used mounting frustrations as a media show to garner national attention. As the media storm began to illuminate racial disparities on a national stage, it also widened the gaps between his community and predominantly black New Orleans. Boe eventually is eventually able to leave New Orleans on a bus headed to the Houston Astrodome. He describes how he was separated from his brother after getting off of the bus. He had contracted a "Katrina rash" from walking in contaminated floodwater. Because those who needed medical treatment were permitted to leave the bus first, Boe left his brother to seek care for his rash. But he refused medical treatment when he realized he would have to abandon his dogs. The size of the crowds at the Astrodome, the lack of water, and the intense heat caused Boe to pass out. When he regained consciousness, he decided to seek other lodging. He rented a car and embarked on the difficult task of finding his brother. Once reunited, the two drove to a family member's house. Boe describes the economic impact the storm took on individuals and the St. Bernard Parish community as a whole. Despite the bureaucratic and slow pace of FEMA, he insists that its financial loans greatly helped residents who wanted to return. However, less than half of the homeowners in his neighborhood have returned to rebuild their homes. He describes how the "hippie tents" at Camp Premiere provide food and clothes for nearby residents in Arabi, Louisiana. Boe also discusses the more unsavory aspects of human nature that came into play during the crisis: the exploitation of FEMA by some residents as well as the unscrupulousness of insurance agencies and contractors who sought to profit from the hurricane's devastation. Boe speculates St. Bernard Parish has the unique opportunity to reinvent itself by creating new industries and that the chaos that followed Katrina demonstrated the need to improve communication between all urban and rural areas of Louisiana.