People Get Ready

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Archive for September, 2005

Beauty in destruction

Posted by schroeder915 on September 28, 2005

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.

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Algiers comes back to life

Posted by schroeder915 on September 28, 2005

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.

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New Orleans is a ghost town

Posted by schroeder915 on September 26, 2005

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.

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Get your war on

Posted by schroeder915 on September 18, 2005

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

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Katrina victims wait for hours to get help in Pensacola

Posted by schroeder915 on September 16, 2005

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.

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Report from New Orleans

Posted by schroeder915 on September 15, 2005

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.

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In memoriam

Posted by schroeder915 on September 11, 2005

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.”

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Goin’ to New Orleans

Posted by schroeder915 on September 9, 2005

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.

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Goin’ to New Orleans

Posted by schroeder915 on September 9, 2005

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.

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Katrina water

Posted by schroeder915 on September 8, 2005

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.

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