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The Daily Need

Disaster tourism

Five years after Hurricane Katrina and still in the wake of the BP oil spill, my husband and I decided to take our 10-month-old baby Declan on vacation to New Orleans. Spending our tourist dollars in the Gulf region seemed like the patriotic thing to do, and, as journalists, we figured we’d blog about the experience. But after arriving to find Brian Williams reporting live from the French Quarter, a CNN van parked semi-permanently outside the Café du Monde, and every tourist kiosk in town hawking “Katrina tours,” we realized that our time was probably better spent eating, drinking, listening to music and soaking up atmosphere rather than trying to find something new to say about the twin tragedies that have devasted this unlucky corner of the country. Still, I wanted to share some photos — of disaster, recovery, and my 10-month-old son posing with a bunch of drag queens.

Declan and his dad in the Lower 9th Ward. A day after the Katrina anniversary, the area was deserted — the only people we saw were a young couple from Florida there, like us, to survey the destruction, and an older man who biked in from another neighborhood to look out at the water where he used to go crabbing.

This exhibit at the Audobon Aquarium is meant to look like the underside of an oil platform; a sign explains that “platforms create underwater habitats for marine life — and good fishing — that are lost when platforms are removed.”

The exhibit was sponsored by big oil companies, including BP. Almost all the fish in the Audobon Aquarium died during Katrina but have since been replaced.

Remnants of a Cajun village, as seen from a swamp tour. Our guide had been a commercial crabber until the oil spill; now, he tosses marshmallows at alligators to the delight of tourists for a living.

Declan poses with drag queens in town for the annual Southern Decadence festival…

…and is showered with Mardi Gras beads and stuffed animals on the Decadence parade route.

And below, a short video from our last day in town, when we were treated to a symbol of the famous resilience of New Orleanians — a second line jazz parade through Treme, the nation’s oldest black neighborhood and the setting for the eponymous HBO series:

Photos by Cameron Hickey and Lauren Feeney

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