Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina +1 Part IV (Monday)

TV on, we watched as the weather mercenaries chased Katrina. Someone from the weather channel was at a hospital or hotel on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, assuring us that he was safe from the wrath of the storm because he was inland far enough that the surge couldn’t reach him. Within just a few minutes he and the crew were moving as water flooded the first of floor of their location. The van was moved and the satellite was at risk. Water came up fast.

In Jackson, things were uneventful. We simply watched things unfold, happy to not be in New Orleans; at least not this once. In the morning the wind was blowing moderately, and it was raining lightly. As the day wore on, the wind picked up (as a non-expert, it is my guess that the windspeed was somewhere betwee 60 and 80 mph.), the rain got harder, and there were thunderstorms and lightning.

I remember sitting with my computer plugged in to make sure I had a full charge. Looking out the window while trying to do some work, I remember seeing leaves blowing by and larger branches snap off trees and hurry through the yard, We had a nice lunch, I think. Nothing fancy, but something hot. We watched the footage from New Orleans but there wasn't a lot as the news people had evacuated themselves. We saw as the hurricane took an unpredicted wobble to the east. We thought we had avoided the worst. Sure, things would be bad, but this wasn't the big one. It was big and scary, but not the one.

Suddenly, without any noise or warning, the power went out. My mom's friend brought a small two-inch TV and my uncle had just enough batteries for it. We all gathered in a tight circle around the black and white light in the darkness of the living room. Whatever channel we were watching had a helicopter shot of downtown. Things looked ok. Sure, the curtains were blowing out of the windows of the Hyatt Hotel and the Superdome's roof had been blown off, but everything was still standing!!! Sure water was rising, but we had hurricane rain. OF course there was some water on the roads. We had survived the storm. It had missed us again. Ha! New Orleans had survived another near hurricane. Clearly we were the chosen ones! In the meantime, the local station we were watching went back to coverage of the storm surge on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. That's okay, we thought. Y'all took it for the team. Thanks and sorry about that, but that's how things work out sometimes, we thought.

Cell phone reception was beyond spotty. The land line, however, was still working in the evening when my cousin called from Austin, TX. He and his mom talked for a while about how crazy things were and she said we were all ok. We probably weren't going to be without power for long, but the power was out now. How were he and the girls? When she hung up, I picked up the phone to call my wife. The line was dead. Soon after, the batteries on the TV gave out.

Outside, I was able to find enough reception to send my wife a few text messages and let her know I was ok. It was an excitement filled day. Things were bad, but we would get up in the morning, assess damages, help clean up and head back to Metairie. I am not sure how I heard it or when but I remember getting a text message that the levees had broken. In a panic, with nowhere to go, nothing to watch or listen to to find out more. It was probably just a rumor. It was time to go to bed, because a long day of clean-up was ahead.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I went to the wonderful happy hour party at the New Orleans Yacht Club. It was nice to meet Dr. Homan, Kalypso, Bart, Mark, Greg, Alan, Flood and Loathing, Maitri, Sophmom, GulfSails, Bill from SF, and all the others who were there and with whom I got the opportunity to talk. There were others whom I wanted to meet, but I had too many other things to do Saturday to make the entire event. I have read some of the summaries, and I watched the video of the "Arabi Wrecking Krewe." Thanks to all who organized it, ran it, and participated in it. You guys are my source for all things New Orleans these days. It is good to know that I am getting information from bright, energetic, and eager citizens who are screaming for change. Thank you for sharing yourselves online and keeping hope alive.


During my visit to New Orleans this weekend, I finally met up with the security guard from my old school. He was safe. He had evacuated to I don't remember where, but he and his daughter were safe. His wife had left him a note on the bed stand weeks before and the she packed her things and moved out. His house on Painters St. was flooded 11 and 1/2 feet. But his flag football cleats are still safe in the attic. Everything else is gone. He looks broken on the inside, and, while I know that many people who read this may already feel like this or know people who look like this, I don't get to see it. It is agonizing. And it is a miracle that he continues on.

One of the other things that he told me is that the school did a good job taking care of him after the levees broke. He said that he cleaned the refrigerator out and took out all the rotting furniture and stuff, but he hasn't gutted the thing yet. He probably told me why, but I can't remember because I was so stunned to see him. He is on the list for the Catholic Charities to provide help. I asked my mom, who works for Catholic Charities, if there was anything she could do. I don't know if there is, but it can't hurt to ask. Then I called my brother the contractor and asked him to give my friend an estimate. They know each other.

My friend said he bought his house with the insurance money and is living in a trailer. Neither neighbor has returned, but he mows his grass regularly. It's got to feel like home, he said. He is a huge Saints fan, and I don't think he is going to be leaving New Orleans. Thank God.

One of the more bizarre stories that he told me is that some parents at the school saw a picture or a video of the police officer who used to patrol during after school carpool pick-up. In the video, at the height of the chaos and looting, there she was. She didn't have anything in her hands, but she wasn't stopping anyone either. She was trying to keep the situation from getting out of control. Nonetheless, when this parent reported this to the school administration, she was summarily released from her duties - no questions asked. Never mind that this woman had a stellar record and years of service. Never mind that the children loved her. Never mind that she was dealing with the largest MAN-MADE DISASTER to befall an American city. Done. Is that how we build community these days?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Katrina +1 Part III (Sunday)

Katrina +1, Part III (Sunday)

At 7 AM, I immediately turned on the Weather Channel to see what Katrina was doing while I slept. What she had been doing was continue to grow into a monster and head straight for New Orleans. There was no time to dally; it was time to pack up the car and go. Since I was only in town for the weekend, it didn’t take me long to throw my clothes into my bag and throw that into the car. Mom, on the other hand, had much more to do. She grabbed a plastic bin and began throwing pictures, financial records, bills, and whatever else she thought was going to be important in case this was the big one. At 8 AM, I was ready to go – coffee had been made, a small breakfast was prepared, and I thought the car was packed.

I grabbed the coolers from the top of the fridge in the garage and loaded them up with all the frozen foods in both refrigerators and all the ice in the freezer. Everything else we pretty much threw out. Just in case, you know. The coolers were placed in the car. Still, mom was not done loading her little plastic bin nor was she done packing clothes her bag of clothes that would just have to last for a few days. She seemed flustered and hurried. But she plugged ahead slowly and methodically. She didn’t want to forget anything. I watched Nagin make the mandatory evacuation announcement, and I watched as people drove their vehicles up to the Superdome, got out, and went in. I sent a second email to the head of my school to let him know that I was evacuating with my mom and that I would call with updates as the weather permitted.

After she finally finished taking care of her chores, mom and I walked through the house to see if there was anything else that needed to or could be done in case the worst happened. We took the oriental rugs from the living room and dining room, rolled them up and placed them on the couch in the living room. I turned off the computer and placed it up on a desk in the garage just in case water blew in under the garage door, an unlikely scenario but one whose damage could be limited. At 10 AM, we loaded the car up and headed for I-10 West and then onto I-55 toward my uncle’s house in Jackson, MS.

It was a hot August day (aren’t they all?) and the air conditioning in mom’s car was on the fritz. We opened all the windows and the sun roof so that we could get some air moving, but it proved to be ineffective at 10 MPH. All along I-10 in Kenner there were cars parked on both sides – people waiting for family members or broken down or some other bad luck. Traffic was backed up for miles and miles.

We stayed in the normal traffic lanes north as we approached the Bonne Carre spillway so we could get onto I-55. I am not sure when it happened, but at some point traffic started moving pretty well. We were going 35 and then 50. The radio was tuned in to WWL, and Garland Robinette, at some point, had mentioned that the birds were missing from the trees. What an interesting observation, I thought. I had noticed something was different that morning, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Garland figured out what it was for me.

One of my mom’s friends was working at the Red Cross shelter in Mount Vernon in Tangipahoa Parish. This woman’s sister, also a friend of my mom, had stayed there on Saturday night, but she had had enough of living in a shelter after one night and wanted to follow us up to Jackson. We turned off I-55 and pulled into a jammed gas station to wait for her. It was a scene from the apocalypse. The store had set up a make shift counter to sell water, there were lines for gas into the highway, and everyone was talking on cell phones out front. I called my brother to find out how he and his wife and kids were making out. They had headed east and were going to Atlanta to stay with his sister-in-law. I can’t remember if they had both cars or not, but he was well on his way.

I don’t know how far the shelter was from the exit on the interstate, but it took mom’s friend the better part of 45 minutes to meet us. When she got there, she and my mom ran in to go to the bathroom and get something to drink. When they were ready to go, my mom got into her friends car and left me in the hot car without A/C. That was fine by me because I was calling all my friends up north and telling them of my odyssey to escape Katrina. It’s hard to explain all of the things that we from New Orleans understand about weather and evacuation and to detail and repeat the details that we were hearing on the radio. Things looked bad for New Orleans, but we were evacuating and would return home in a few days to pick up the broken branches and to clean the refrigerators.

Somewhere along the way, I remember noticing dark, ugly, menacing clouds rolling in from the south every time I looked in the rearview mirror. That has to be the first squalls of the storm, I thought. And north we drove.

At some point the bumper to bumper traffic eased, and I pulled away from my mom and her friend. I was hot, and I wanted out of the car. As we approached Jackson, the contra flow ended. It was getting to be evening now. I hadn’t been to my uncle’s house in several years, so I couldn’t remember the exact directions to his house. I pulled off at the exit, called for directions, and arrived at the house just before dusk. What I did not do, and what turned out to be a mistake in retrospect, was stop to fill the car up with gas. I drove to the house, and I unloaded all the coolers and my bag.

My uncle and I visited for a while until the vehicle with my mom arrived. After a nice dinner, we settled in to watch the Weather Channel and any local news that was talking about hurricane, evacuations, wind speed, or rain. I was starting school soon, so I tried to get some of the work that I had brought with me done. I charged my cell phone and computer battery that night. We all went to bed hoping it would make a slight “wobble,” but we felt quite certain that we would be able to go back Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Katrina +1, Part II (Saturday)

Friday is a blank. It was a regular day. Katrina skittered into the Gulf, but all the forecasts had it being pushed towards Pensacola and Mobile. We didn't think about it much on Friday.

Saturday was a totally different feel. When I got up, my mom insisted that if I was going to use her car that I absolutely had to fill it up. I did. I hadn't seen gas lines like that since the 70s energy crisis when I was just a wee one. I waited in line for an hour or so just to pretty much top the tank off in case we decided that we were going evacuate. It still didn't seem like it was coming to New Orleans, but lots of people had the same idea at the same time - get ready just in case.

I picked up a friend to go to our annual fantasy football draft. One guy couldn't go because the baptism of his son, previously scheduled for Sunday, was being done on Saturday. Others missed the draft as they were preparing their homes and families in case they needed to leave on Sunday.

We watched the weather channel. But moods were upbeat. I remember thinking that it would be interesting to stay for a hurricane so I could say that I lived through it. I would have some stories for my students at school.

After the draft, people left quickly without much fanfare or without any long goodbyes. There was lots of work that needed to be done - plywood the windows, pack the car, and get the important stuff off the ground in case it rained really hard and the streets flooded a little.

While I was at the draft, my mom had begun bringing potted plants from all over the backyard into the screened-in porch. I turned on the TV. Ray Nagin was asking people to take heed of the storm and was asking for a voluntary evacuation. I immediately called airline and tried to get my flight moved up. The woman on the phone told me that they had ceased operations immediately and that they would resume as soon as possible after the storm had passed. So there are no flights leaving New Orleans today? I asked. Probably on Tuesday she told me. Planes were leaving the airport for safer ground. I wrote an email to the head of my school telling him about my situation. I was stuck in Metairie until the hurricane passed unless we decided to evacuate. But I couldn't possibly get back until at the earliest Tuesday. Unbelievably, I found the email and am posting it here:

I am in New Orleans this weekend, and it seems that a rather powerful hurricane
is headed this way. The city of New Orleans has announced a voluntary evacuation
for today and is expected to try to enforce a mandatory evacuation for tomorrow.
The hurricane is predicted to make landfall on the Louisiana coastline sometime
Monday which would probably mean that the airport and flights into and out of here
are cancelled. I have called the airline to see if I could get on a flight today
or tomorrow but I had no luck. I guess I am trying to say that, despite my attempts
and wishes, I may not be able to get back to New Jersey for a few days. While we
are not sure if we are evacuating just yet (it's highly likely), I just wanted
you to know what was going on here. (The highway system here has in place what
they call "contraflow" where both sides of the highway go in the same
direction. If we do leave, there is little chance of getting back until everything
has passed and the local and state governments give the ok.) I will try to keep
you posted as to what is going on regarding my return. I hope to be home sooner
rather than later.



PS - Please keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers. He is very ill, and the
prognosis for the defeat of the cancer is not very good at this point.

I helped in the yard and brought in the items that I thought could or would blow around as well as the glass topped tables which I carefully laid upside down.

I drove to a friends house to hang out for the evening. We sat in his kitchen drinking a few beers and talking. In the living room we watched the Weather Channel like hawks. The conversation waned every ten minutes or so as the next update came on. I told them that I might stay. It would be so inconvenient to evacuate, and I really wanted to see what it was like to live through a real hurricane. During Georges, my apartment on Prytania didn't even lose power. It was a non-event to me. But this was something that not so many people were going to be able to say they saw first-hand. I wanted to be one of those people. My friend told me that what I was saying was quite possibly the dumbest thing he had ever heard me say. Get the heck out, he said. Go get your mom and go. You can come back and see what it did. But if you're in a house and a tree falls on it, you won't be seeing anything else. And you have a wife now. It's not just about you. He was right.

We went outside a few times to see what was going on. Small, fluffy clouds were racing across the night skies, and little droplets of rain would quickly pass as well. It was interesting. I don't know if they were way outer bands of the storm or if this is a frequent occurence. I never noticed it before. And it was getting notably blustery.

After the 2AM update on the Weather Channel, Katrina was now a dangerous and catastrophic Category 5 hurricane. Complete destruction was forecast. On the weather underground or NOAA Hurricane Updates page or on the weather channel, there was a strangely worded advisory (not sure where I saw the advisory, just that I did see it when it first came out) - the fatalistic advisory essentially told everyone watching or reading that if they did not leave, they were going to die or that things would be very, very unpleasant for a very, very long time. It was shocking to read in such graphic detail the possibilities that all livestock exposed to storm force winds would probably die. It was odd and surreal.

We went outside, planned to all evacuate in the morning, and I headed home. The plan was to get up and 7 AM, pack my clothes, do the last minute things that needed to get done at my mom's house, and start heading to Jackson by 8 AM.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Katrina +1, Part I (Thursday Before)

The next few posts will be about my memories from last year. Rather than use the 29th of August as my reference date, I will use the days of the week which are easier for me to remember than the numerical days.

I flew into town for the annual fantasy football draft. My friend had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I was looking forward to a nice visit with him and the rest of my buddies in New Orleans. Since I didn't rent a car, my mom came and picked me up. It was a relaxing evening - Popeye's for dinner and then a friends house to talk and have a few beers. Katrina was not even a thought. It had struck in Florida with tons of rain, but it was forecast to go far east of us, Pensacola, I think. Nothing to worry about. Just another one of my trips to New Orleans. Nothing really eventful. Yet.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

letter to the mayor

- I have had enough. I plan on bombarding the cityofno.com website contact page with emails to Hizzoner. People talk, people write, and the t-p has an editorial. Maybe the mayor needs direct contact. I don't know, but I am not gonna think he got the message. I am sending it directly to him. Every damn day. Till I start seeing results. And when I move down there, things are going to get a lot more personal....

Here's my email. Feel free to copy/paste/adapt/change/ignore

Mr. Mayor,
I am a former resident of New Orleans who now lives in Easton, PA. I was visiting last year when Katrina approached and then struck. I am desperately working on convincing my wife (who is not from New Orleans) to return with me and be part of the rebirth, recovery, and rennaissance of New Orleans. I am, however, concerned about a lack of plan. I don't see any movement or improvement. I need to see that the city is going to take steps to improve - education, infrastructure, levees, quality of life, etc. You, in particular, have been very quiet since your re-election. Where is the 100-day plan? Where is the BNOB commission? Where are you?
I am concerned that you have become part of the problem that we elected you originally (in 2001) to fix. It was with great fanfare that you shut down the corrupt brake tag operations. And then you seem to have fallen prey to the game. What happened to the integrity that we all believed you had? What happened to the guy that was going to fix the city government? What happened to the guy on the radio during the flooding who was so angry and wanted things fixed? What happened to the mayor?
Sir, I know that things have not been easy in the last 11 or so months. Nobody should have to endure such hardships, but you chose to be a leader. It seems that you have been only a leader in word and not in deed. New Orleans cannot afford any more talk. It is past time for action. Do what you said you were going to do. Lead your city out of its greates crisis into its even better future. Fix the school system, repair the roads, end the culture of poverty, and move the city into the 21st century. The legacy of hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians has been placed in your hands. Mr. Nagin, you can do it. You simply have to.


Mr. LtnTcha (name changed to protect me when I move back)


Let's be honest - no one reads this blog. I write this for myself. Mentally and psychologically, it has helped me recover from the death of my beloved New Orleans. No doubt she will rise again, but she will never be the same. The failure of the levees and the loss of trust in the Army Corps of Engineers has assured that New Orleans and New Orleanians are second-class citizens. I have struggled with this truth, and I hate to admit it.

I am coming home. I will come home. I am out of place everywhere else, something that I consider a blessing. When people ask me where I am from, I tell them New Orleans and they are enthralled - everyone that has been there has come away different. People don't say the same things about Minneapolis or Columbus or Jacksonville.

I have loads of questions to which I do not and cannot find the answer. I watch and listen and read, and I know that despite my wishes, my hopes, and my desires New Orleans' politicians continue their shortsighted scheming and profiteering to benefit the fat cats and purposefully and meaningfully screw over the populace of the city to which they have been entrusted (Meffert, Collins, Nagin, etc.)

When I come home, I will not rest until I have had a part in ending the b.s. that has plagued our great city. The people of New Orleans deserve better than the nonsense that they are being forced to put up with. They can and they will do better for themselves. We need to throw the bums out. Not some of them, all of them. Peoeple will say that we don't want our image to be tainted by this. Image is perception. Corrupt, unethical, unworthy people with bad/no/stupid ideas run the place for their (and their friends) benefits. So much more is on the line. How can the situation continue unabated? How do people turn a blind eye to the nonsense? How do they not know? Is this a conspiracy?

Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I am disappointed. Yes, I cannot believe the crime and the criminals and the drug wars are back. Yes, the mayor and the governor and the president are buffoons. These are undeniable facts. Yet the mayor and his cronies are still robbing the overwhelmed and devastated city of its diminished resources. How is this possibly ok?

I guess the point is this - I will continue to fight for my New Orleans, but I am not sure if this forum is the place to raise these questions. If nobody is listening, what good does it do. And I don't have the insider perspective that I want and need to make this worth the while for now. I need to refocus my energy and find the direction for this 'blog. Until I do, I am on hiatus. Keep fighting, keep struggling, and keep the bastards accountable. I will be home to help in the fight one day.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Complaint Department Open

Stan Ridgway, former lead singer of Wall of Voodoo, says in "Can't Complain" off his 1991 release "Mosquitos," "All things considered, you really can't complain." Well, he was wrong. Found this site today (http://katrinacomplaints.com/default.aspx) where you are encouraged to write about any complaints related to Katrina and insurance and FEMA and contractors and whoever else is complain-worthy. And they would ask that you use your real name so the SOBs who are screwing you and yours know you aren't going to take the grief sitting down. So cheer up. "Things could be worse."