September 18, 2014
By Jazelle Hunt
Just before Labor Day 2005, the world was stunned as images of Gulf Coast citizens, trudged through chaos and stagnant floodwaters, strewn with the debris of wrecked buildings and storm-tossed earth. The sights seemed to replay just before Halloween 2012, as coastal New York and New Jersey waded in icy waters and picked through the rubble of their destroyed property.
The incidents were separated by more than 1,300 miles, seven years, and two extreme weather events: Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. But a new Web media project titled, Katrina/Sandy, juxtaposes the storms to suggest that disastrous scenes like these may be on repeat, as extreme weather becomes a new global reality.
“We’re not trying to say they’re the same event…. But it’s definitely a worthy thing to put [them] in context with each other when we think about, how do we respond better, how do we prepare better?” says Rachel Falcone, filmmaker, co-founder of Sandy Storyline (along with multimedia artist, Michael Premo), and co-creator of the Katrina/Sandy project.
“We’re trying to tell stories that can impact and improve the recovery after Sandy, or at least improve it so that…we learn from the mistakes we made during Sandy and especially during Katrina. And also the successes…not all the stories are sad stories. Communities are coming together to meet needs successfully and create solutions.”
Katrina/Sandy is the joint endeavor of two award-winning projects, Land of Opportunity and Sandy Storyline. Sandy Storyline is a crowd-sourced collection of Hurricane Sandy experiences, solicited and curated by a team of filmmakers. Land of Opportunity is a New Orleans-based multimedia project from a team of filmmakers that explores issues around housing; the Katrina/Sandy timeline is hosted as part of this larger project.
Created from donated footage and testimony from scores of local filmmakers and citizens around the country, Katrina/Sandy blends film, photography, and firsthand audio accounts into a powerful timeline before, during, and after the storms.
Viewers click points along the line and journey through footage of ravaging winds, relentless floodwaters, weatherworn residents, and weary homeowners. As the short films and accounts play, viewers can also segue to compelling documents, articles, and interviews that explore related issues.
In one scene from the Sandy accounts, a mother walks through her home, surveying gutted walls and detailing the bureaucratic ordeal of beginning the rebuilding process, as her young daughter wanders around calling out memories. In an accompanying scene from the Katrina footage, a father reflects on the 18 months he and his family have lived in a trailer on his property, waiting for the city to demolish his crumbling house so he can rebuild, as his young son plays nearby.
The similarities continue to unfold in straightforward, powerful vignettes. Notably, low-income residents share similar experiences of isolation and neglect. In Sandy’s wake, it is elderly and disabled people stuck in high-rise public housing units without electricity, heat, or medications. Post-Katrina, it is mostly Black people slogging through hazardous floodwaters, searching for food and dry clothing.
Scientists and researchers almost unanimously agree that extreme weather events like these have become and will continue to be commonplace, as a result of climate change. Low-income and underserved communities, often home to people of color, will continue to bear the brunt of the effects.
“Folks who don’t have resources are the hardest hit at every stage of disaster. Katrina continues to be an ongoing disaster for a lot of people, and that’s clearly the bulk of what’s going on on the ground in Sandy,” says Luisa Dantas, filmmaker, director of Land of Opportunity, and co-creator of Katrina/Sandy.
“When we talk about looking ahead, and learning, and preparing, it’s mostly around ensuring that folks who don’t have access to resources are protected, and cared for, and able to recover and rebuild their lives just like everyone else can.”
Marginalization of these communities continues in debates about land use, rebuilding, and the right to return in the aftermath of disasters. Outside this project, both Dantas and Falcone work on issues around housing rights; Dantas points out that this scenario plays out often around the country.
“Crisis isn’t just a disaster on the scale of Katrina, but we’ve been looking at stories all over the country of crisis being used as a real excuse for policies that displace people, that put a premium on development agendas that aren’t necessarily inclusive, and aren’t necessarily being directed by the communities where they’re set,” she says, citing Detroit’s economic crisis as an example and Katrina as an extreme case.
Sandy survivors are at the beginning stages of these issues.
“Right after the storm there was all these meetings the mayor convened around policy that were shocking,” Falcone says. “There were town hall meetings, there’s been a lot of discussion around policy…and around buyouts, and development, and who has a say in what’s happening to different areas that are trying to rebuild. So we definitely see similar issues. But for us we feel like it’s not yet written, so we wanted to invite people to help us tell that story.”
Viewers are invited to share their post-Sandy stories at Sandystoryline.com/participate/share-your-story, and the Katrina/Sandy timeline can be viewed at http://beta.landofopportunityinteractive.com/#/compare.
Dantas and Falcone hope the timeline will help inform how people and officials prepare for this new normal.
“One really important thing to talk about with Katrina and the relationship to Sandy…is when a natural disaster becomes a manmade catastrophe. In the case of Katrina, the storm itself did not cause the lion’s share of damage. It was the epic failure of manmade infrastructure. And similar situations happened in Sandy recovery,” says Dantas.
“The Sandy anniversary is coming up and the decade of Katrina coming up in a year. The value of reflection isn’t just looking at what’s happened but also thinking about how what’s happened can be applicable to your own community. We’re really hoping that this work is driving home to people that this could happen to them, and if it were to happen to them, could they be better prepared?”
September 11, 2014
By FRED SHUSTER
City News Service
Hundreds of federal agents raided Fashion District businesses in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday September 10, arresting nine people and seizing $65 million in a crackdown on what prosecutors called a scheme to launder cash for Mexican drug cartels. The raids — part of what federal prosecutors dubbed “Operation Fashion Police” — coincided with the unsealing of three federal indictments, one of which alleged that a Fashion District business was laundering ransom money payments made to secure the release of a U.S. citizen kidnapped and tortured in Mexico by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Federal prosecutors said other Fashion District stores were being used to launder money from drug traffickers and other offenders in what is known as a “Black Market Peso Exchange” scheme.
The garment trade and its nearly 3,000 businesses is the largest manufacturing sector in the area, officials said.
“Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Dugdale.
“Because Los Angeles is at the forefront of this money laundering activity, law enforcement in Los Angeles is now at the forefront of combating this issue.”
The cartels’ cash is “the lifeblood of their organization,” Dugdale said. Prosecutors said three people were arrested in connection with the alleged laundering of ransom money paid to the Sinaloa cartel. According to a federal indictment, a business called QT Fashion accepted bulk amounts of cash and funneled it through 17 other Fashion District businesses at the direction of a Mexico-based business called Maria Ferre S.A. de C.V. The $140,000 in ransom was paid by relatives of a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped by the Sinaloa cartel after U.S. authorities seized more than 100 kilograms of cocaine the man had been responsible for distributing.
The man was taken to a ranch in Mexico, where he was beaten, shot, electrocuted and water-boarded, according to federal prosecutors. The man was released after the ransom was paid and is now back in the U.S., officials said. Andrew Jong Hack Park, 56, of La Canada Flintridge; Sang Jun Park, 36, of La Crescenta; and Jose Isabel Gomez Arreoloa, 49, of Los Angeles; were arrested in connection with the QT Fashion case, according to prosecutors.
Three other defendants named in the indictment — all of Mexico — remain at large. Three members of a Temple City family — Xilin Chen, 55; his son, Chuang Feng Chen, 24; and his daughter, Aixia Chen, 28 — were named in a second indictment accusing them of money laundering through Fashion District businesses called Yili Underwear and Gayima Underwear. Xilin Chen and Chuang
Chen were both arrested September 9, but Aixia Chen remained at large. Four people connected to a business called Pacific Eurotex Corp. were named in a third indictment, accusing them of money-laundering. The indictment alleges the defendants used the company as a repository to receive bulk amounts of cash that they knew or believed to be drug money, and laundered the funds.
Arrested in that case were Hersel Nemen, 55, of Beverly Hills, the company’s CFO; Morad Neman, 54, of Westwood, the CEO; Mehran Khalili, 45, of Beverly Hills; and Alma Villalobos, 52, of Arleta. The Nemans are brothers, and Khalili is their brother-in-law, prosecutors said. In May, reacting to an upsurge in money laundering operations downtown, Homeland Security Investigations conducted an outreach program targeting 160 Fashion District businesses, said HSI Special Agent Claude Arnold. Two defendants — Neman and Villalobos — attended the symposium, in which the consequences of involvement in the illegal trans-national cash trade were explained, Arnold said.
During the raids, authorities seized $65 million, some in cash and some from around the world, prosecutors said. Millions of cartel dollars were retrieved from tightly packed banker’s boxes in a Los Angeles condominium, at a mansion in Bel Air, and hidden in the bottom of a pet-food bag, according to Arnold. Such cash “contributes to the violence, pain and bloodshed,” Arnold said.
As a result of the recent cash loss, the Sinaloa cartel is expected to “change the way it launders money in the future,” said William Bodner, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Bodner said regulations put into effect in Mexico in 2010 restricted the amount of U.S. cash that could be deposited in banks spurred an increase in trade-based money laundering.
“This is just the beginning,” Bodner said, addressing his message to businesses in the downtown textiles and wholesale district.
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said the two-year “Operation Fashion Police” has struck at the heart of the district’s dirty money trade, leaving a “huge hole” in the profits of Mexican drug cartels. To anyone involved in such a criminal enterprise, Harris warned, “we’ll track you down, and hold you accountable — and we’ll take your money.”