Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Beauty in destruction

I've added a couple of interesting links to the Hurricane Katrina sidebar.

First, I found a couple of interesting streaming audio links:

1) Daniel Zwerdling's American Radio Works 2002 broadcast on the hurricane threat to New Orleans and how wetland loss has contributed to the risk of devastation. If I'm not mistaken, this was broadcast, or repeated, on PBS' Now.

2) Monroe, Louisiana's KEDM reading of Mike Tidwell's, Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast, along with a lecture he delivered at the University of Louisiana - Monroe.


3) As I find time to verify Gulf Coast bloggers who are writing posts about Hurricane Katrina, I'll add them to the Katrina blogroll. With thanks to fellow WTUL dj and New Orleans blogger, the_velvet_rut, I recommend the Operation Eden photo blog. Among my favorite photos are the one above, and below.

Algiers comes back to life

The east bank of New Orleans remains a ghost town - with the notable exception of fleets of press, military, and law enforcement vehicles from around the country parked in the French Quarter. Unlike the east bank, the west bank is now slowly coming back to life, buttressed by services that are being restored to Jefferson Parish next to Orleans.

There are now grocery stores open - the Winn-Dixie at MacArthur Boulevard and Holiday Drive, and the Sav-A-Center at Belle Chasse Highway and Lapalco - although the shelves are bare, and it seems to me that some of the things on the shelves have been there through the power outages after Katrina. There are also a number of gas stations open on the West Bank - in Algiers and Harvey. Of course, there are many more businesses open in Jefferson Parish, and I'm hearing now that the curfew there is starting later - from midnight to 5 AM. In Algiers, the curfew remains from sundown to sunup.

In my in-law's neighborhood this morning, I heard the sweeping of roof tiles along cement and hammers. Notwithstanding the billions that will be spent to rebuild New Orleans, this is the real sound of the reconstruction as it will unfold in the coming weeks and months - families impatiently returning to the city, one at a time, fed up with the delays and living in strange cities, in hotels, motels, with friends and family, reclaiming their homes, one piece at a time.

One of the most compelling symbols of life returning to Algiers - as I left the house, there at the foot of the driveway, neatly wrapped in a plastic bag, was today's Times-Picayune. I don't know if my in-laws had a subscription. I doubt it. I think, like the Red Cross card that was left in the door jam, the Times-Picayune is probably delivering papers to homes where there are signs of residency.

I've become used to driving around with no other cars on the road. This morning, traffic on General DeGaulle was almost like rush hour, pre-Katrina. Something will have to be done to minimize the lines forming at check points back into Algiers, now doubling every day.

Again, the east bank of New Orleans has a long way to go. Mayor Nagin, I'm hoping, will get serious, and soon, and instead of telling us in a patronizing way that there is a "process" and a "detailed plan" for the resettlement of the city, will tell us what that "process" is, and what that "detailed plan" is. For God's sake, let people go back to their homes. We're all adults who assess risks every day. If there are risks, state them clearly so people can evaluate for themselves the dangers, and let them make a decision about how to move on with their lives.

Monday, September 26, 2005

New Orleans is a ghost town

I'm back at work in New Orleans (technically, Jefferson Parish - which is a big difference), but that means even less access to the internet at times when I can post. When I go home to Algiers, there's electricity, but no land line phones and no cable, and that means no internet. There's not much open except for a couple of grocery stores and gas stations. Even those close early so workers can get home before the sundown curfew.

Here's a post that's now more than a week old, predating even Hurricane Rita:

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to really drive around New Orleans on my own a little – to take in the impact of what I was seeing in a more thoughtful way that last weekend.

The city is a ghost town, or more accurately, a police-state ghost town where the inhabitants are eerily missing, replaced by a militia monitoring the movements of its own members.

It looks like an atomic bomb went off in New Orleans. Cars are strewn around in random ways straddling curbs, on the neutral grounds, some upside down. Skiffs, canoes, pirogues and even small cruisers were beached. Everything once covered in flood waters is now covered in an ash-brown dried mud. Anything that was once green, is now dead and dessicated, coated in that same ash-brown dried mud.

In areas where significant flooding occurred (even Uptown), cars and houses are striped with grime along their sides - green and brown and ash in color, like dirty rings in a bathtub, or the great strata of millennia at the Grand Canyon, each set of rings telling a story of catastrophic loss. But the rings are everywhere. Across the expanse of entire neighborhoods, the trail of rings can be followed, from one house to the next, from one car to the next, across a fence or a tree or a row of bushes.

I drove into my neighborhood down Jefferson from Claiborne Avenue. A week ago, this area remained flooded with black water and was impassable. Now, everything was bone dry. A barricade on Jefferson Avenue forced me to duck into a side street. Then I continued down Joseph Street. Garbage lined both sides of the street where, obviously, lots of other people like myself had found a way into the city, their destroyed furnishings piled into high mounds on the street. There was litter scattered on the ground everywhere along with downed wires and dead tree limbs.

At each house, as I moved down the street, I looked to see where the water line was. I knocked on almost every one of these doors in the last election cycle as the captain of my precinct for the Kerry campaign. I tried to remember the faces that came to open particular doors, the doors to houses that were cuter than others, or the doors to houses whose yards had been given a little extra attention.

The water line was like a death sentence. For those whose houses were built on slabs or which were only raised marginally on short piers, every furnishing would be found destroyed, and many family heirlooms or irreplaceable objects of sentimental value. And this is just Uptown, which was spared the worst flooding.

I drove just past my house to park in a small clearing of debris in the street. My body’s danger mechanisms kicked in as I stepped out onto the street. A felt a thin film of sweat develop, and my heart started to beat faster. The air was humid and filled with that smell of rotting swamp even though the ground was completely dry now.

I moved quickly to inspect again the condition of the house, mostly to make sure that no looters had broken in - I didn’t want any surprises going into the house. No boards were removed from the windows at the front of the house. Accessing the back of the house was inconvenient, so I didn’t check windows back there.

The pie tins I left full of cat food and water for a stray beagle I saw the last time were empty and blown off of the porch. There was no longer a puddle in the street to jump over. The jar of pickled jalapenos was still in the sidewalk, as was the tire which had floated into the driveway along with the siding and all the other trash.

The front door opened easier than last time. The air inside the house was stale and filled with the putrefaction still emanating from the vacated but still rancid smelling refrigerator. Even though the possessions inside were familiar, my absence made them seem more remote, almost as though this wasn’t really my house.

It was still daylight outside, turning to dusk, but because the windows remained boarded up, the inside of the house was pitch black. All the visible light inside the house came from the small windows in the kitchen and bathroom at the back of the house. I forgot to bring a flashlight on this visit. I couldn’t have seen if anyone was lurking in the shadows. Given the edginess of the situation, I was thinking of getting out as fast as I could.

I peered briefly into the office, but couldn’t see well enough to reclaim any possessions there. The bedroom closet was worse. Minimally, I decided to get the coffee maker and coffee filters. Stepping through the narrow passage of the galley kitchen, I walked into a long spider web. I love spiders from a distance, conceptually, as predators capable of creating fascinating traps of spun spider silk for other less desirable creatures. I hate them when I come into close contact with them. I stepped back to peel the web off of my face and legs, then tried again to make my way to get the coffee maker and filters. With these in hand, I quickly made my way to the front door. There, I listened for any noise outside of passersby or cars, peering through the peephole as I did. When it seemed safe to go outside, I emerged from that cave that was once home, feeling somewhat odd that, if anyone should see me, I should be reclaiming nothing more than a coffee maker. This I placed on the front seat of the pickup. Then looked around once more at the house.

The neighbors asked me to turn off their power supply if I could get to their back yard. It was getting dark, the curfew was about to begin, and I was getting very anxious that I might be seen by a looter. There hasn’t been much about looting in the press anymore, but every once in a while, someone has a story to tell about being shot at or carjacked. Criminals have nothing to lose. What’s the worst that could happen to them? That they’d be caught? They don’t care about that.

It was then that I noticed, on the side of the house, the chicken wire that blocked entry to the underside of the house was bent inward to form a hole large enough for a person to pass through. I considered for a moment if the hole could have been caused by some natural phenomena – like the force of water – almost trying to convince myself that there was no reason to look under the house. Then I wondered why someone would want to crawl under the house. It’s a damp, muddy mess. I can only imagine that someone was looking for something there, or was living there, or crawled through to the fenced-in back yard like the time when a burglar broke into the shed.

Not one to let fear overcome curiosity, I cautiously approached the fence. With all the dried leaves and other debris in the driveway, there was no way to make a quiet approach. Anyone who may have been there would have heard me go into the house long before, and then moving toward the opening. Stooping down about five feet away from the hole, looking under the house, I couldn’t discern anything more than the shadows of the broad piers against the light from the far side and back of the house. It then seemed like a stupid idea to be trying something like that without a flashlight, and possibly, a gun as well. I couldn’t see anyone else, but they could have easily see me. It reminded me of the wise advice I heard an official say about avoiding dangerous situations – it’s not what you can see that you should worry about, it’s the other people who can see you that you should worry about. Then I was startled by the crackling of leaves behind me. I spun around low and fast to see who was behind me. Nothing. Just a pile of dead leaves rustling in the breeze. In the dead silence of this abandoned city, every sound was amplified.

That was enough. I resigned myself to the more rationale idea of returning in the full light of day, with a flashlight, and possibly a gun. I counted the blessing of having a coffee maker, got back into the pickup, and headed for the relative certainty and security of my in-laws’ house in Algiers.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Get your war on

Get your war on for 9/13/05 (hat tip David G.):

Friday, September 16, 2005

Katrina victims wait for hours to get help in Pensacola

The number of Hurricane Katrina evacuees from across the Gulf Coast now seeking refuge and relief in the Pensacola area is doubling daily. The Pensacola chapter of the American Red Cross has been doing a terrific job of ramping up the number of case workers to handle the influx. Many evacuees express appreciation for the assistance they are receiving, but they also express their frustration at having to wait for hours in long lines, and their disappointment with a larger public that sometimes doesn't understand or sympathize with their dilemma.

A first for People Get Ready, listen to my blipmedia podcast on the American Red Cross relief effort in Pensacola.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Report from New Orleans

Saturday, September 10, 1:30 AM, we woke up to go back into New Orleans. Five of us, including my wife and in-laws, drove a minivan filled with gas tanks and donated supplies from Pensacola in the middle of the night. The plan was to arrive in New Orleans as soon as the 6 PM to 6 AM curfew was lifted. We would first try to get to Algiers on the west bank of the Mississippi to inspect my mother-in-law’s house, clean the refrigerator of rotting food, and pick up more clothes and personal valuables. Then, we would attempt the comparatively more difficult task of traversing the Mississippi to get to the more damaged areas of the east bank of the river. In addition to assessing the damage to my house and cleaning out the refrigerator, we intended to pick up my wife’s car, hopefully still parked in a multi-level garage.

We left at 2 AM with a full tank of gas, conserving fuel by leaving the air conditioning off and rolling down the windows. Since we didn’t know if fuel would be available anywhere on the road, and certainly not in New Orleans, we considered it prudent to conserve as much as possible. A half tank of gas would be adequate to get to New Orleans, but there was no sense in taking chances. Additionally, we carried a few extra gas tanks in the back of the van.

The route we took was I-10 west to Slidell, bypassing the destroyed twin spans across Lake Pontchartrain by taking I-12 west to I-55 south. From I-55 we traveled a small jog to the east on I-10 to its intersection with I-310. From there, we took Highway 90 to Lapalco Blvd., and traversed Lapalco all the way to Algiers.

There was a thick sulphurous stench of rotting swamp all the way from Alabama to Mississippi and into Louisiana. There were no open gas stations or businesses anywhere in Mississippi, and many exits were blocked by barricades or vehicles. Everywhere, advertising and road signs were knocked over and scattered by the sides of the highway.

At about 5:00 in the morning west of Slidell, we pulled into an old-fashioned gas station like something out of The Andy Griffith Show – a gravel drive, a dog that ran up to greet us, flip numbers on the gas pumps, and a screen door made a “creak-smack” sound when it slammed closed. Inside, a couple of guys were talking to one another across the counter – they could have been there all night. As we chatted about what the situation was in New Orleans and the best route in, every couple of minutes, they’d spit some tobacco in a cup.

There seemed to be plenty of gas in St. Tammany Parish, where the recovery seems to be well under way. As we exited 310 onto Highway 90, we saw that there were more open gas stations in Westwego.

Few of the metal buildings that are so predominate on the West Bank were not damaged. Everywhere, metal roofs were peeled away from their structures. Trees were uprooted, power lines were down, utility poles were leaning or snapped in half, and debris was everywhere.

Military outposts were abundant in public or commercial buildings, as were checkpoints run by Louisiana State Police, various military branches, and out-of-state law enforcement agencies. I later learned that this freed up local law enforcement officers to perform actual police work. An id (which I can’t really reveal in this forum) secured our passage through the checkpoints.

Moving up Lapalco Blvd., we passed easily into Algiers. The first stop was an NOPD outpost set up in an insurance building where we dropped off provisions of food and drinks, as well as baby food and other donated items. A team of about a dozen officers were camping out there, literally. They had provisions in coolers, a large gas grill, clothes draped to dry, and boxes of water. They all looked scruffy - like they could use a decent bed and a couple of weeks of rest. Everyone was sporting the same military buzz cut.

Jefferson Parish deputies were similarly worn pretty ragged. An odd aside is that JPSO facilities were swarming with people in yellow T-Shirts, members of Church of Scientology, and were offering up their own version of relief by giving out hot dogs and massages. Among the Scientologists who reportedly turned up was Kirstie Alley.

We found Algiers to be in very decent shape, aside from wind damage. There was no water damage. Lots of shorn roofs, downed limbs and trees, and downed power lines. My in-laws house had some damaged roof tiles and siding, and the yard was a disaster. Otherwise, the worst of mess was cleaning out the refrigerator. Sporting rubber gloves, bottles of bleach solution, and face masks, we emptied the contents of the refrigerator and freezer, and buried the contents in the back yard.

Another checkpoint on the GNO bridge, but again, the proper id secured our passage. We exited at Tchoupitoulas, and traversing the corridor, passed countless military troop transports and other huge military vehicles. The damage appeared limited to downed limbs – perhaps because any wind damage had already been done by Lily earlier this year.

We noticed that a favorite spot, Roly Poly was in perfect shape. The Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas might have been looted, but was then boarded up. We heard that the National Guard was posted there for a time, but there was no sign of them anymore.

We turned up Nashville Ave., and found more extensive tree damage. Some large oaks were felled by the roots, and some houses incurred damage by falling trees. Cleanup crews had already started cutting through felled trees, and had moved debris out of many streets. They had done a pretty fantastic job in a short time.

When we got to Freret Street, I was shocked by the amount of debris – junk – in the street. The receding line of flooding was only a couple of blocks up from Freret toward Claiborne Ave. I’m afraid that low-lying houses from Freret to Claiborne won’t have faired well.

The first thing we did was retrieve the Volkswagon from the Loyola parking garage where we left it to ride out the storm. We discovered the garage to be filled with military personnel who were using the garage as a makeshift garrison. Laundry hung out to dry decorated the sides of the garage. Tulane and Loyola looked to be okay for the most part, except for tree debris. It was hard to ascertain the water level around the universities, although one indicator was the boats tied off along the street. After getting the Volkswagon, he headed back down Freret Street to our house.

The anticipation of what we would find had my stomach doing spins. We were fairly certain that at some point, the flooding may have reached about three feet, but had it gone any higher?

Fortunately for us, the flooding only came up to the third step on the porch, just about a foot and a half shy of the floor. The eucalyptus (mercifully) was split at the base and leaning into the street. I’ve wanted to cut down that weed for a long time anyway. Now I have an excuse and can put in something more lasting and desirable like a live oak or magnolia.

The flooding brought in an amazing array of trash and FUNK – a mixture of jars of rotting food, tires, siding, shingles, the odd piece of wood, tree debris, shoes, and a sludge of mud, oil, and whatever else happened to be carried through the city as the water pushed through from Lake Pontchartrain. Anything that was once green was now dead and brown, covered in a stinky brown muck.

The windows were still boarded up. The roof was intact. The front door was stuck shut from humidity and required a little shoulder to get open. Inside the house, there wasn’t any of the smell we expected from rotting food. Everything was as we left it. We felt the odd misery of incredible fortune at being among the lucky few to have an untainted home to return to, while at the same time feeling guilty knowing that many of our neighbors, friends, and fellow residents wouldn’t fair nearly as well.

The central air unit, and washer and dryer in the shed will most likely all have to be replaced because they were under water. Another tree in the back yard leaned against the side of the house, but caused no damage. There was some leaking through the roof visible in stains on the ceiling. The rain must have been moving horizontal at an extremely high velocity and getting under some of the shingles. Oddly, a spring-loaded curtain rod we used to hide towels in the bathroom was lying on the floor – the only way that could have happened is if the house were moving. I’m not talking here about any modern prefab construction. I’m talking about a house built in 1919 on deep thick brick piers and solid timbers.

As with the house in Algiers, we cleaned out the refrigerator, burying the food in a hole in the yard. We grabbed a few more changes of clothes to supplement the three changes we initially brought with us, and looked for anything else we might want to salvage or need for the duration of weeks that we might not be able to return.

NOPD and State Police units passed, each asking what we were doing and how we were able to be in the city. The NOPD supervisor who passed was a little more touchy than the rest, almost to the point of hostility. A few military vehicles passed, greeting us cautiously after determining that we weren’t looters.

We were met at the house by a celebrity friend of the family (see if you can guess who) who heard we were in town.

As it was getting on toward 5:00, we wrapped up what we had to do, fueled up the van and Volkswagon, and headed for the Causeway along River Road. Entrance to the Causeway was also protected by a checkpoint.

Moving out over the Causeway, out over Lake Pontchartrain, we realized again how incredibly lucky we were. Uptown was largely saved from the greatest devastation, although I imagine that much of Uptown will also have to be rebuilt. Nevertheless, we were nowhere near the areas of greatest devastation – Lakeview, Mid-City, and the Ninth Ward, where houses were under several feet of water in some places.

Again, I felt the odd sensation of…guilt – the guilt that we fared well where others did not. We numbered among the lucky few. Our task will be to help our friends and neighbors rebuild.

New Orleans will rebuild. There’s simply too much culture in that city, too many families that have been there for generations, too many small-town connections, to allow anything to break the cohesion of the New Orleans community, of which I guess I can now claim as part of my heritage too, for better and for worse.

Photos here, and here.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In memoriam

Were it not for Katrina and were I in New Orleans, WTUL would be on the air and I, wearing one of my other hats, would be hosting the annual 9/11 remembrance this evening.

Among the selections played would be John Adams' "On the Transmigration of Souls."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Goin' to New Orleans

Against the wishes of authorities, I'm heading into New Orleans, West Bank early Saturday morning. I'll try to get into the East Bank afterwards. We'll be heading back to Pensacola tomorrow evening. I'll have more details later.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Katrina water

The expression almost rings of something possessing the sanctifying power of holy water.

It turns out I'm not the only one with a stash of pre-Katrina water. New Orleans blogger and WTUL dj, velvet, is selling vials of the stuff at the_velvet_rut.

Idle time is the work of the devil (and Katrina)

I am beginning to appreciate how idle time among constituents can be a dangerous thing to a politician.

Here we are, we the inhabitants of that sliver of New Orleans, a crescent of higher elevation that runs adjacent to the Mississippi, and we who live in the neighborhoods around the bend - Uptowners, Garden District and French Quarter residents, Marigny and Bywater residents, Algiers residents - many of us were spared the devastating floods that cost the lives of thousands of our fellow residents, and destroyed tens (or hundreds) of thousands of homes.

Even as we mourn the losses of our brothers and sisters, we can no longer carry the burden we are being asked to bear. We can no longer tolerate a blanket policy of evacuation which only makes sense in areas that suffered the most tragic flooding.

We remain exiled, lost victims, "damnificados" (in Spanish), the forgotten refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Although we were able to escape, and our homes might remain intact, we nevertheless continue to suffer the uncertainty of the damage we may find, the loss of jobs, the loss of our futures.

Although our personal losses are comparatively less devastating than the loss of a family member or home, every day that goes by, another day of work is lost, another day of business is lost, another career is lost, another life is irrevocably changed, another family is destroyed. We have left behind our jobs, our businesses, our educations, our necessities, our sentimental possessions, our valuables, and even our pets. Each day that passes, for some of us, these things may become irretrievable - our careers lost out of necessity, our families lost out of stress, our pets lost out of starvation, our possessions through water damage, vermin, stench, humidity, mold and mildew, looting, or fire.

We are stuck in that damned place between those who lost everything and are getting assistance, and those who are too wealthy to care. We have to fend for ourselves.

The time has come for a massive revolt against the authorities that refuse to respect our sacrifice. We acknowledge that others have suffered more than we, and we sincerely regret those losses. Nevertheless, we didn't cause their suffering - Hurricane Katrina did. There is no reason for us to punish ourselves, nor to allow others to take us for granted.

The time has come for us to reclaim our lives.

The time has come for us to return to our homes to assess the damage, to salvage what we can, to count our blessings, or mourn our losses.

The time has come for those who refuse to allow us to rehabilitate our lives to be held responsible.

I ask New Orleans residents to sign the petition to Mayor Nagin to allow residents back into the city.

Then, contact:

Mayor Ray Nagin, (504) 654-4000, or email.

Governor Kathleen Blanco, (866)310-7617, or email.

Senator Mary Landrieu, (202) 224-5824, or email.

Senator David Vitter, (202) 224-4624, or email.

For readers with a lot more time on their hands, the home contact information for U.S. Representatives Jefferson and Jindal, state representatives, councilmembers and everyone else are in the Louisiana elected officials database.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

New Orleans agua dulce

Large parts of flooded New Orleans have become a dark cesspool of decomposing bodies, chemicals, fecal matter, and who knows what other types of toxic detritus.

Historically, notwithstanding the brew of runoff and sewage that drains off the land from all across the Midwest, the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board as well as independent examiners have praised New Orleans tap water as being among the cleanest in the country.

Amid the heat of Pensacola today, I observed that I still had a bottle of New Orleans tap water in my pickup - one of the few items I grabbed for the evacuation. This may be the last sample of good water from New Orleans - the last known prototype from before Hurricane Katrina.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fiscal pigs

Among a number of pointed questions in a Washington Post column today, "Why Oh Why?," Terry Neal asked:

Would a president who proclaims himself to be a conservative sign a $286 billion highway bill packed with some 6,000 pork-barrel projects, many of them frivolous, while cutting a request from the Army Corps of Engineers to bolster hurricane protection in New Orleans from $105 million to $40 million? Wouldn't a president who calls himself a conservative, demand that taxpayer money be spent on priorities and try to do something to reform a budgeting system that rewards politicians for acting like pigs at a trough?

To which I might add that President Bush has stubbornly refused to accept any scientific fact that might lower the bottom line of his friends in the oil business. Despite a persistent campaign by local and state officials to obtain the $14 billion in federal appropriations for the Coast 2050 coastal restoration project, President Bush has been criminally negligent in denying those funds. In retrospect, doesn't it seem like a cheap price to pay?

Monday, September 05, 2005

The biggest funeral march ever

This is what I have to look forward to. This image was taken on Wednesday, August 31st, after the 17th Street Canal breach flooded a large swath of New Orleans. The image may be fuzzy, but I can see that the roof is generally intact, no trees have fallen, and most importantly, the fact that the white of the sidewalk and curb are visible indicates that there isn't more than a foot or two of standing water, if any water at all.

People from all across the Gulf Coast are doing this. It's really quite amazing - even for a GIS professional like myself - to see the convergence of web-based communication, aerial photography, and GIS, implemented with such speed, in what has been a volunteer georeferencing endeavor, for such a practical purpose as finding out whether users have a home to return to.

The NY Times today printed a story celebrating the collaboration between NOAA, Google Maps, Carnegie Mellon university, and volunteers, has provided hope - or at least a confirmation of reality - to countless thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina now spread across the United States. Because it might take weeks for many evacuees to return home (an unacceptable timetable), obtaining basic information about the condition of their homes is essential for their emotional well-being, and to help them adjust to the new reality of their lives.

As Americans celebrate the Labor Day holiday, most Gulf Coast residents today are out of work. Tens of thousands have lost loved ones, their homes were flooded, they live from paycheck to paycheck, and they may possess few marketable skills. There but for the grace of God go I. Nevertheless, along with most Gulf residents, I'm certainly confronting considerable uncertainty about what I'll do for work.

Today, my family and I visited the American Red Cross office in Pensacola to inquire about assistance. I understand that the Red Cross is issuing debit cards for K-Mart and $90 vouchers for food. In many ways, I feel too lucky to ask for a handout.

I can't say I feel like a refugee in the sense that people who survived the Tsunami disaster were refugees, or the Sudanese are refugees, or Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch or the many civil wars were refugees. But I'm paying a price for the disaster, and the down-road costs will be considerable before any insurance assistance kicks in.

So, while the rest of America celebrates Labor Day, I wonder what I'll be doing for work. I don't want a handout. I want a job. I'm sure I share that attitude with most Gulf Coast residents. We want to get on with our lives. We just want that normalcy back. We want our homes and communities back.

For those of us from New Orleans, we want an entire culture back. Unfortunately, the surreal scale of this disaster will haunt the memories of New Orleanians for decades to come. Will the vitality of spirit that infects everyone who visits the city ever return? Will residents ever be able to celebrate as New Orleanians are uniquely capable? Jazz Fest will be cancelled in the coming year. What about Mardi Gras? What about that curiously morbid celebration of life, and death, the jazz funeral march?

The traditional march begins with a funeral dirge, "A Closer Walk with Thee," which then rolls into a festive "Didn't He Ramble." Maybe by this time next year, New Orleans will have returned to enough normalcy that the city can host the biggest funeral march ever.

What better way to bring communities together, hurt by racial tensions in the wake of Katrina, than to invite every city resident to attend the biggest funeral march ever, making its way through every neighborhood in the city of New Orleans?

Maybe out of respect for the dead, those two classics, "A Closer Walk with Thee," and "Didn't He Ramble," could be retired forever, only to be heard when remembering the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New delays threaten homes

It's a day more than a week since I arrived in Pensacola. Tomorrow morning will be one week since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. In that time, two very esteemed and beloved grandmothers in the family passed away, adding to the grief everyone feels. Yesterday, I celebrated a landmark birthday with solemnity. My prized possession: a coffee pot. It's a week that feels like a year.

For me personally, after reading a number of encouraging Town Hall posts on, and after viewing the NOAA imagery georeferenced in Google Earth, I now have some assurance that my house has survived, as well as the possessions inside. If I had to, I would sacrifice the house if I could salvage my sentimental possessions. Nevertheless, how selfish it seems now to want to recover family photos, books, and possessions of mere sentimental value, when other families have lost so much more.

Those of us who live in that strip of land adjacent to the Mississippi, with its historic deposits of sediment, live on a natural ridge - a blessing of geography which has saved our homes. All the rest, in particular those who lived in New Orleans East, live on low land developed after the levee system was improved and the pumping system engineered to drain the swamps.

I know people are trying to downplay the race issue by pointing out that whites and blacks, asians and hispanics, were all mixed together among those who remained in New Orleans. Furthermore, they say that white people, along with people of every other race contributed to the rescue and relief effort. What those race detractors fail to see, however, is how the poor are pushed out to the margins of society. My sister remarked, what else would you call it when blacks are marginalized to swamp land? Then there's the lack of resources dedicated to issue of moving the poor, mostly black population out of the city when a mandatory evacuation was ordered.

My hope is that now, finally, city, state, and federal leaders will begin to recognize that we can no longer live in a de jure "integrated" but de facto unequal society. The New Orleans public school system has to be fixed, just as much as the levees need to be raised and hardened, the coast needs to be restored, and wetlands need to be withheld from development. As is almost always the case, however, it's tragic that change is borne, literally, on the graves of society's disenfranchised.

I'm encouraged by recent reports that National Guard troops are patrolling the city of New Orleans in intimidating numbers, and that the rescue, relief, and evacuation are nearly complete. Horrific casualties will probably be forthcoming as the water recedes - when it recedes.

The body recovery operation now begins, while the remainder of us wait to return to our homes to assess the damage, salvage what we can, start the claims process, and then evacuate once more. It doesn't sound like we'll be able to return to our homes to live for weeks or months, but we're all desperate to get a look at what remains, so we can plan for the future.

None of this can happen while the Corps of Engineers has just one backhoe filling in the 17th Street Canal. Furthermore, the commander of the Corps of Engineers has been saying that mere gravity will be used to drain water out of the city. Any New Orleanian would tell him to go bite a dog's butt for making such an assinine judgment.

I called Senator Landrieu's office this afternoon to commend her for her newly-discovered aggressiveness in attacking the criminally negligent federal response this week (including President Bush's staged photo ops), but I expressed my hope that she would light a fire under the Corps' butt to get them working inside of a shorter time frame to drain the flood waters.

Not only could the flood waters take weeks to recede without pumps, but houses exposed to water for more than a couple of weeks will be considered total losses structurally. That delay could be turned into days if the water is pumped out.

Pass the word, and call Senator Landrieu (202-224-5824). Tell her to:
1) Get the levee breaches fixed,
2) Repair the existing pumps, or bring in new ones.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Do you still write 'NOPSI' on your electric bill?

You know you're a New Orleanian if...

Meanwhile, New Orleans ally Micheal over at 2Millionth Web Log, has a post citing the Mark Childress NY Times column, "What It Means to Miss New Orleans."

Friday, September 02, 2005

"Get off your asses and do something"

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in a WWL interview Thursday evening let it all hang out, and spoke the truth about the totally incompetent, negligent, failure of leadership by the Bush administration to provide adequate and timely assistance to New Orleans:

WWL: What can we do here?

NAGIN: Keep talking about it.

WWL: We'll do that. What else can we do?

NAGIN: Organize people to write letters and make calls to their congressmen, to the president, to the governor. Flood their doggone offices with requests to do something. This is ridiculous.

I don't want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don't do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we can't even count.

Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.

WWL: I'll say it right now, you're the only politician that's called and called for arms like this. And if -- whatever it takes, the governor, president -- whatever law precedent it takes, whatever it takes, I bet that the people listening to you are on your side.

NAGIN: Well, I hope so, Garland. I am just -- I'm at the point now where it don't matter. People are dying. They don't have homes. They don't have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same in this time.

Tears ended the interview.

Listen and learn.

Louisiana: Third world and...once proud of it

This Times-Picayune excerpt says it all:

El Salvador...offered Thursday to send soldiers to the United States to help police zones flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

So...George W. Bush presides over a country to which, thanks to his utter failure to lead through its most dire crisis, the most impoverished nations are now offering charity.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


In yesterday's post, I characterized as "criminal incompetence" the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare the levee system for anything more than a fast-moving category 3 hurricane. I am now revising that characterization, because "incompetence" suggests that the accused actually tried to do something to prevent the current disaster from unfolding.

Even worse than a failure of leadership, what is happening in New Orleans now can only be characterized as CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE!

While appreciating the fact that B. and I were able to get out of New Orleans before Katrina struck, the total chaos of armed thugs running the streets of New Orleans, on top of the levee disaster, and the utter failure to grasp the rescue and relief effort is a total fiasco.

Police being shot at? Rescuers being held at gunpoint? Looters breaking into homes up and down St. Charles Avenue?

Where are the troops? Why wasn't any planning done to have boots on the ground immediately after the hurricane passed. I'm talking about the need for tens of thousands of troops to handle the multiple needs of rescue, relief, and security.

I am in a complete rage over this fiasco. To have survived the hurricane, and to see the situation deteriorate into a total cesspool "soggy version of the wild west" (as one friend called it) after Katrina passed, is putting me into a fit of absolute distress and anger.

I want my leaders to reflect that anger when they get in front of the cameras.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said in a cool interview yesterday that people needed to remain calm. She said that this is not the time to find fault, that there would be plenty of time in the future to assign blame. I haven't heard a single peep out of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

I called both of their offices today, and I want to ask everyone who visits this blog to do the same. What I told the person who answered was to write down the following things:

"criminal negligence"
"heads should roll"

I then explained that I don't want to see either senator in front of a camera asking for deferred judgment. I said I want to see them screaming at the top of their lungs, amplifying the extreme frustration and growing rage of New Orleanians that the official response has been a worse disaster than the actual hurricane.

Homeland Security? All I have to say is, if the United States is hit with another attack, all the billions spent thus far will appear to have been flushed down the toilet. Those billions were apparently spent for things like the "National Preparedness Month" observance for the month of September, announced by Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff this morning. If anyone needs to be doing any preparing, it's the Department of Homeland Security.

The reason this whole fiasco is unfolding is because our leaders at all levels of government - but especially at the federal level - have failed over and over again to heed the warnings, and when disaster finally struck, to respond quickly and effectively.

This crisis is being caused precisely because there has been a total void of leadership. People died, homes were lost, because President Bush, in particular, and the rest of his administration, have been slow to realize, and slow to respond - as he was with 9/11 and with the Tsunami disaster last year.

I can't continue this post any longer, since I'm now getting kicked out of the only wireless cafe I can find in Pensacola.

Please people - speak up so the world hears our voices. We are taking it day by day, trying to figure out what tomorrow will bring, but nobody making the decisions that are impacting our lives in very serious ways seems to get it.