It’s been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, but resident Shannon Rainey lived in a state of disaster decades before the storm ever made landfall.
“We see Katrina every day. So the only thing that’s going on with us [is] we just get a new year every year. Nothing has been done,” said the 65-year-old.
The Big Easy native’s home sits atop a toxic landfill.
Rainey first realized something was wrong about a year and a half after she purchased her home in the Upper Ninth Ward’s Gordon Plaza neighborhood during the mid-1980s.
“In my yard, we stumbled over a can that had a skeleton head on it with an ‘X’ on it,” Rainey said. “And other families realized that they were coming up with all kinds of hazardous materials.”
Rainey says the community received no help, despite reaching out to city leaders with their fears. Eventually, the Environmental Protection Agency got involved and formally proclaimed the area “a Superfund site” in 1994. Gordon Plaza residents later filed a class-action lawsuit against the city in the hopes of relocating from an area that has one of the highest cancer rates in New Orleans.
They are still fighting for the funds to relocate.
Now the elderly residents of Gordon Plaza face a new obstacle: the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This community now is becoming a health hazard,” Rainey said, especially considering many locals are already sick and folks with pre-existing health concerns are even more at risk of contracting the virus.
Ms. Rainey discusses how living on a toxic landfill affected her during Hurricane Katrina, her battle for fully-funded relocation for her and her community, where her strength comes from, and more in the video above.
Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!