Thursday, December 15, 2005

Next stop in New Orleans: Disaster trip for tourists

By Michele Gershberg

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Visitors to New Orleans who once toured the graceful mansions of its Garden District or learned the history of its Mississippi River plantations have a new attraction: The Hurricane Katrina disaster tour.

Gray Line New Orleans will begin on January 4 a "Hurricane Katrina Tour - America's Worst Catastrophe!" to show the ruin that befell the city when the storm hit on August 29, breaching a faulty system of river levees and flooding 80 percent of its neighborhoods.

Gray Line New Orleans normally organizes trips through the city's historic districts as well as its swamps and spooky cemeteries, but its business has been severely curtailed by the hurricane. The company said the Katrina tour was born of frustration over the government's slow response to rebuilding.

About 10 percent of the $35 ticket price for the three-hour tour will be donated to Katrina relief groups.

"People around the country don't understand it until they see it firsthand," Gregory Hoffman, general manager of Gray Lines New Orleans, told Reuters. "We're going to walk them through what we as locals experienced leading up to and following the hurricane."

Critics say a commercial tour only sensationalizes the city's suffering, with tens of thousands of residents still dispersed across the United States. Other victims can still be seen on city streets trying to salvage belongings from their wrecked homes.

"There should be tours, but they should be linked with people who are displaced and coming up with a plan of action," said Corlita Mahr, a hurricane victim who works with the grassroots People's Hurricane Relief Fund.

The Gray Line tour includes a history of the Mississippi River and the levees intended to protect city inhabitants, as well as its industries, from oil and gas production to seafood harvesting.

The tour will follow a route through the ravaged Lakeview neighborhood and pass by the Superdome stadium, where storm victims waited for days to be rescued with little food, water or medical attention.

Hoffman, who along with many of his employees lost his home to the flood, noted that visitors are already poking into destroyed neighborhoods on their own accord, not unlike tourists who lined up to see the ruins of New York's World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001, attacks four years ago.

Passengers will not be let off Gray Line buses to take photos of neighborhoods, he said.

"We may pass out maps that show the depths of the devastation, but after you ride around for fifteen minutes in those areas you don't really need any more," said Hoffman.

1 comment:

Pete said...

Sounds like fun sign me up!!!