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‘I find myself praying for a storm’: Chicago Tribune editor wishes a Hurricane Katrina would ‘cleanse’ city

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A nurse holds a baby rescued from Hurricane Katrina (David/Flickr)

A white Chicago Tribune columnist is sparking outrage after writing a Thursday column expressing “envy” over Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history as the anniversary of the storm approaches.

Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005, killed almost 971 people in its direct aftermath. According to Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, the majority of the victims were elderly black people.

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“Envy isn’t a rational response to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” Tribune editor Kristen McQueary writes in the column originally titled, “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina.”

The headline has since been edited to read, “Chicago, New Orleans, and rebirth,” and the column edited to soften some of the assertions. But the New Orleans Times-Picayune archived the original here.

With the anniversary quickly approaching, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu apparently made a visit to the Tribune editorial board.

“I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating
swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops,” McQueary wrote. “That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.”

McQueary apparently yearns for Katrina-scale death and destruction in Chicago because New Orleans city leaders used the storm as an opportunity to furlough and fire city employees, and convert the public school system into a private venture.

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“Chicago is so good at hiding its rot,” she writes. Its gravest issue — more than crime, education and poverty? Overspending.

“You’d never know it by the casual approach of government, both at City Hall and Chicago Public Schools, toward spiraling debt, and our elected officials’ continued practice of the risks that got us here,” McQueary writes.

McQueary bemoans the billions of dollars leaders of the city of nearly 3 million borrow to keep running — $900 million last year, $1.1 billion in June, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel planning to borrow another $500 million currently.

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“That’s why I find myself praying for a real storm,” McQueary wrote. “It’s why I can relate, metaphorically, to the residents of New Orleans climbing onto their rooftops and begging for help and waving their arms and lurching toward rescue helicopters.”

In the edited version, she points out she just wants a “metaphorical” storm.

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In the wake of Katrina, many of the original residents’ lives and neighborhoods have yet to be restored 10 years later, the Guardian notes. Instead the city has begun the process of gentrifying, which often results in displacing lower-income people of color in favor of wealthier white residents.

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