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.


At 9/05/2005 05:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take any assistance you can get. You are a victim of this storm just as much as anyone else, and you have an uncertain future ahead of you.

Meanwhile, I don't really know you personally or anything, but if there's something I can do, please let me know.


At 9/05/2005 09:33:00 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Again, if there's anything I can do, let me know...didn't know you're a GIS professional--I'm in IT, and might be able to put in a good word with the State Lands Office (I built the basic boxes for the two State Land Office GIS servers, although any specialized GIS software was installed by them...still, I have decent contacts with people in the office...and, I'll admit that it's one of my favorite places to get called into when my services are required).

I also agree with Mixter re: assistance--the uncertain future requires it.

I'll pass along a phone number and an email if/when you're ready to move forward.

And, thanks for mentioning the song Closer Walk With Thee. I have a signed Martin Simpson CD by that title. I'll never be able to listen to it the same way again.

At 9/06/2005 08:40:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Thanks mixter and micheal both. The moral support is very encouraging. As for the offer to help make connections, I may call in that favor some day. For now, I'm going to see if I can find something in Pensacola, since there's family here. Your offer is very generous.

At 9/07/2005 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Rob said...

I'm so sorry about your grandmothers, and I know how you feel about being lucky, not wanting a handout and not knowing what to do next.


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