|Nix Bits -> Katrina|
Thu, 22 Jun 2006
The US Army Corps of Engineers recently admitted culpability for the levee breaches that caused New Orleans to flood. It was barely a blip on the news radar. Too many people long ago decided New Orleans flooded because New Orleans was vulnerable. They bought the original line, trumpeted by the Corps, that the levees overtopped and the flooding was inevitable. It's just crazy to live in New Orleans, after all. We should all just turn sod and move upriver.
Now we learn that the government in the form of a Congressional investigation has known for months. Why wait? Why hold the video back? What purpose did that serve exactly? Tell me again what I'm supposed to expect in return for the taxes I pay to this government?
Considering what it can be like living here it's hard not to get really, really angry about stuff like this. Do you know how weird it is to be happy that the National Guard is back in town? It's a little less weird then driving past Vera Smith's makeshift memorial in the little park at the corner of Jackson and Magazine on the way to work every morning. The traffic lights on that corner are still not operating. It all just wears you down.Wed, 24 May 2006
It's been a while and I've been working a new job so not much time to say anything. Reading a lot of the New Orleans bloggers but I'm taking the long view and trying not to get wrapped up in the emotional side of things as much.
Par for the Corps - Washington post editorial asking why there isn't more outrage at the failures that actually caused our city to flood in the first place. John Barry's companion editorial and the discussion that followed are interesting too.
Anyone interested in what really happened should take a look at the T-P's interactive timeline. Of course you could also learn alot by following Chris Rose. Though his columns are informative and educational in a different sort of way.
Of course we're preparing to evacuate ourselves early and evacuate often this year. On the plus side of life, we bought ourselves a kayak last week. Not for paddling around NOLA after a flood, but just for the fun. We've been talking about doing it forever. So while we're waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for our house to be rebuilt, at least we can stick with some of our pre-katrina plans and goals.
Lastly, there's this list of links to various and sundry 80's videos on youtube. Videos you've probably never seen or last saw only once back when you were a kid suddenly available again. I could lose days on this.Wed, 12 Apr 2006
Before this space devolves into a litany of non-stop complaints, I should point out some good things that have happened in the days since the US Army Corps of Engineers' faulty levees burst.
First and foremost, Jennifer and I are OK. We got out of New Orleans with all of our pets, all of our pictures, and more clothes than many folks. We were reasonably comfortable at the friends' who kept us for the first month and at my parents'. And we have been extrordinarily fortunate to get into an apartment Uptown.
We're both working. Jennifer's work has started to pick up lately and we're pleased about that. I didn't lose a day of work since the storm. I was able to work remotely and my previous employer was very supportive of all their employees. Even if I had been unable to work, they still would have paid me for the month of September as they did for so many other employees who couldn't work. And I say previous employer because I have since gotten a new job. I had been ready to move on from my previous work site before the storm and opportunity began to knock. I'm enjoying the new gig and working hard.
We're also enjoying one of these now. Sure, it took 15 years and 8 feet of water to get my wife a new car, but it's been worth it. She's been craving a MINI for a while but we couldn't justify it. I've never been much of a car kinda guy -- the last car I bought was the utterly utilitarian Saturn -- but man this thing is fun.
Lastly, my mother in law sent us some pictures of Callie living it up on the farm. Yeah, I'd like to have her back here with us, but from the dog's perspective, she's probably having a better time up there right now. And of course this means we have our families supporting us in any and every way they can. I mean, they're putting up with my big, goofy, hyperactive German Shepherd who I am convinced thinks she is a much smaller dog. The pics really cheered me up. I've put them below. The other GSD is Petra. She's teaching Callie how to be a real German Shepherd on a farm.Tue, 11 Apr 2006
Last week we got a little note on our car asking us to please not park in front of a certain house. Now under normal, Pre-K, conditions this sort of thing would probably be amusing more than anything else. Of course, that never happened in our mid-city neighborhood where street parking is(was?) at least as difficult as it is in our current Uptown digs.
But this is post-K and things are different. And raw emotions are much closer to the surface. See, this note came just two days after we got ripped off by a shoring contractor. It came a week after one of my brother's friends was killed by a shotgun blast to the chest in the Marigny. It came the day after someone was robbed at gunpoint just across the street from our current apartment (and this person's house, as well). It came the same day that the US Amry Corps of Engineers announced that, oops, we need another 6 billion dollars to protect the region so we're going to have to hold up flood maps yet again. It came after we saw the utter lack of progress made on our little house by our General contractor.
I should note that the person who left the little nastygram is not elderly or handicapped. She looks to be about the same age as us and healthy. Not that we've met her of course, but I've seen her going in and out of her perfect little undamaged and unblemished house. Walking more that five measly feet on occasion won't kill this lady.
Then came the icing on the cake one week later. She had the audacity to leave yet another note on our car the following week. No, it was not to chastise us for parking in front of her home. It was to thank us for not doing so. See, this is not our neighborhood. It is a temporary home that we feel lucky and grateful to have but it is not our house. Thus, this is not our neighborhood. As renters, we're going to suck it up, keep our heads down, and quietly live our life until we can get everything put back together again. You know, like 80% of the rest of New Orleans.
And it's wasn't just any note either. She bought it and packaged it in a little envelope. She thought about it because the note she bought had a picture of a woman walking a pug on it. You know, like our little pug. I mean, Wow.
But wait, you say, she couldn't possibly know you guys were going through all that.
Nope. That's no excuse. She lives here in the sliver-by-the-river surrounded by miles of flooded out devastation. She gets the same paper as we do and watches the same local news. She even had a citizens for 1 greater New Orleans sign in her yard for a while though I suppose it messed up those perfect little hedges and had to go. When people in other parts of New Orleans make broad generalizations about clueless Uptownites, they're thinking about this lady.
I can understand this from someone who doesn't live here and you haven't seen it all with their own eyes. Out of sight, out of mind, after all. It's not right, of course, but I can make some sense of that. But to be here and be so utterly clueless and self absorbed. It's symptomatic of an all too prevalent attitude: "Well, yes, that's terrible and I really feel for you but you're messing up my view and cramping my style."
Although I can understand that feeling from someone outside of here, I certainly don't condone it. While there are certainly a great many Americans down here in the muck with the rest of us working and helping and caring, it feels like there are so many more with this attitude instead. And it's this attitude that allows people to believe the lie that we are ten feet below sea level and should just all move away. It's this sort of benign neglect that will let this city whither and die. "Gee, that's so sad but really those people shouldn't have lived down there anyway. I'm sure their lives are better now. I read somewhere that that city was on such a downward slide anyway. It's probably all for the best, really."
And that is why, for my own sake and sanity and personal therapy reasons, that I posted it here in a fit of utter passive aggression. At least you have a house you're unable to park in front of you jerk.
If you can't get mad, get even. And if you can't get even, just whine about it on the Internet for all to see.
It's now three months after the storm and it's hard to believe that this much time has passed already. First things first:
As a recent Time Magazine cover put it, "New Orleans Today: It's Worse Than You Think". The best one could say is that this will be a very slow rebuilding process. I feel I have to say this front and center because when we talk to friends and family outside of New Orleans, we're finding that people think things are getting back to normal here.
The TV news media have moved on, occasionally broadcasting scenes of Bourbon Street reverie as signs that things are just peachy. Bourbon Street is a minuscule slice of New Orleans as a whole. Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased the Quarter is relatively healthy. But the reality is that 75% of the entire city flooded. It's hard to make the magnitude of that real to people. Pictures do not do it justice. You could try the numbers. For example, out of a city of 450,000, only around 65,000 sleep here at night now. Over 200,000 homes in Orleans parish were flooded. But even the numbers don't really tell the story. You have to see it.
And it's hard to say which view is more dramatic. They daytime view of mile after mile of empty, gutted homes with their attendant debris piles out front and "dirty bathtub ring" water line. Or the view at night, with so much of the city in the dark.
Coming back home was a whirlwind. Everything was a crisis and it was impossible to choose between various priorities. We were dealing with insurance companies, FEMA, our jobs, finding a place to live, and trying to gut and clean the house. That last bit turned out to be rather therapeutic, at least for a while. After spending hours on hold on cell phones that barely work just so you could talk to people who couldn't help and couldn't answer your questions, it does feel good to smash sheetrock with a five pound sledgehammer. You don't even think about the fact that you own the moldy, damp sheetrock you're smashing to bits.
There was and is mold everywhere. This is the inevitable result of stinky, salty, poo-filled water sitting in your house for two to three weeks. And then two weeks more before you're allowed to get in and "remediate" the "water damage." At first you're careful, wearing your mask or respirator. But after a while, it's just plain irritating and there's spores in the open air anyway mixing with the sheetrock dust and dried up muck. We've experienced the "Katrina cough", undoubtedly exacerbated by a constant state of stress and general lack of sleep.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, the new greeting is, "how'd ya make out?" That question is almost always followed by a matter of fact description that goes something like this: "Oh, we had about 6 feet of water and the roof blew off part of the back of the house and the neighbor's car is on my fence. But we're doin allright." And it's true. Jennifer and I feel pretty lucky to only have 1-2 feet in the house. I have friends and family who had 1-2 feet of water in their attics. We were able to evacuate with our photos albums, pets, Jennifer's wedding dress, and a fair amount of clothes. Some of our furniture was salvageable. That's the new definition of lucky.
You don't have to drive very far to see the definition of unlucky: Lakeview, New Orleans East, much of Gentilly. There's almost no signs of life at all in the East. And then there's the holes in the roofs and attic vents. The hand scrawled pleas for water and for rescue. And there are the bright orange X's spray painted on homes. The first time you see "1 DB" with a line through it indicating that a dead body was found and later removed, you don't forget it.
So why are we still here?
We are surrounded by utter devastation, miles of trash, debris and emptiness. On nearly every statistical indicator, pre-storm Louisiana is ranked at or near the bottom. We had the worst public school system to be found in the US. Murder occurred every day. And clearly there was abject poverty everywhere (don't look in the mirror, you other American cities). By nearly every measure, quality of life here before Katrina should have been miserable.
It was anything but. We loved our home and we are far from unique. We don't know if we'll ultimately be able to stay, but we very much want to. New Orleans is sticky in more ways than one. People who were born here, stay here. And people who move here, fall in love and stay here too.
I desperately miss walking Callie around Bayou St John. Ours was a real neighborhood where we truly got to know our neighbors. Just the other day, one of my neighbors called just to see how we were doing. This from a man with some significant health problems who had to be evacuated from a hospital after the storm. Our groceries and restaurants were all within an easy walk. Our Mid City neighborhood is filled with the architectural delights that can only be found in such abundance in New Orleans. As this USA Today(!) article reveals, our neighborhood was incredibly diverse.
I won't pretend it was a Utopia. There was occasional petty crime and clearly there was some drug dealing going on. It was frustrating to clean the litter off of our little front lawn every day after work. But it was still home. Streetcars had returned to Canal after a 40 year hiatus adding a new vibrancy to the area surrounding Canal at Carrollton. The homeowners were gaining ground and pushing out New Orleans' ugly drug culture. It was a neighborhood on the mend and growing. Not like so many other places, of course, where they tear down homes and replace them with heavily fortified mansions. In New Orleans, we don't tear down our homes, we renovate them. It takes longer, but we like our original hardwood floors, 13ft ceilings, working transoms, and Victorian details.
The neighborhoods whose names you've heard on the news are all unique in their own ways. Many are filled with multiple generations of families. I was raised just across the parish line in Metairie, but moved back into the neighborhood of my parents' childhood. My grandmother's house, where my mom grew up, is just a few blocks away. We went there every week as kids and we used to enjoy the family Endymion parade party until she moved out in 1991. My great grandmother had a house around the corner on Scott Street. My grandfather tended bar overnight at the Beachcorner Lounge at the end of Canal Street next to the cemeteries. The majority of my extended family lives in the surrounding area. That's pretty typical.
This is the New Orleans you never saw unless you were the type of tourist to travel off the beaten path. We kept it to ourselves, letting the tourism industry hawk the obvious attractions. We don't talk in a Southern accent or a Cajun accent and we don't call it "the Big Easy". To most ears we sound similar to New Yorkers -- that probably has something to do with the diverse mix of old New Orleans Creole French and later immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Times Picayune columnist, Chris Rose, recently opined that once you lived in New Orleans for a certain period of time, you were ruined for anywhere else. As we consider the possibility of leaving -- and the intelligent, financially motivated parts of our brains tells us we might have to -- I can understand where Chris is coming from. There's just a thousand little things that would otherwise seem inconsequential that make this place truly special and distinct.
And of course there's the food. Yeah, lots of other cities have great restaurants, but New Orleans has New Orleans restaurants. The city is liberally sprinkled with unknown neighborhood restaurants that are decades old. Eating here is an event, not just a necessary bodily function. And of course there's the music. All you have to do is turn on WWOZ and hear the tons and tons of unique music we've given to the world. There are some classic songs that I hear that now almost stop me in my tracks and make me want to kick myself for even thinking of leaving this place.
Yet think about it we do, our rational brains at war with our hearts and souls. And truth be told, that was true before the storm as well. While in one sense, it's easy to live in New Orleans, it can be hard to make a living here. So here were are like tens of thousands of others floating in a secondary flood of indecision, futilely waiting for some external wisdom and guidance that deep down we know isn't coming. We're just going to have to take a stab in the dark and hope we're doing The Right Thing.
I added captions and descriptions to all the pictures posted up yesterday so you know what you're looking at. We have started cleaning now and drove out to New Orleans East to see Jennifer's other office. As many pictures as we have taken and it still doesn't convey the breadth of destruction. The sights are simply overwhelming. We go back past places and see things we missed the first time. Things like cars upended in backyards or trees. People like us have made it in to start assessing and ripping. There are 8 and 10 foot stacks of debris in front of houses everywhere you turn. The creepiest sights are the holes in the roofs. Seeing this in person has a much greater impact than it did on TV.
Links. Besides the pictures from yesterday which are now labelled, here is a
We came in Friday and got our first look at New Orleans an our home. We started taking pictures and a movie of the house as is for insurance purposes. Pictures cannot do this justice. Pictures can't convey the smell or the entire atmosphere of the city. The odd emptiness that is everywhere. We usually have pigeons in our neighborhood. They are gone now. We didn't even see roaches. Just the flies that are having one big party inside our unopened refrigerator.
After doing our assessment we did some driving around. No matter what you've seen on the news, nothing can really convey what the city looks and sounds like. The amount of devastation is numbing. It is everywhere. I've been too busy to really cry or grieve but I have simply filed it all away to deal with later.
We drove through Lakeview which took much of the worst of the water. Homes were inundated to heights of 12 feet in this area. People have nothing to salvage. We even went to the 17th street canal breach location -- our rough equivalent to ground zero. It's not the only breached canal but it's one of them and the one that most affected our neighborhood. The breach is over a city block long. It's hard to imagine what it will take for my home city to recover from all of this.
Direct links to photos:
Got some new pics from Greg of our house up. Surprisingly, the tree that leans over the rear of our house did not fall in. So that's a tiny bit of good news.
There's an extensive set of unlabelled pictures from Greg starting here as well. I may label some of them later. Mostly pics of damage inside Greg's house two blocks up S Pierce from ours. There are some street pics of Tulane Avenue and other areas.
We're planning to go in for a looksie tomorrow.
This post from another blog hits the nail on the head. Some of the political squabbling and national news media coverage has been infuriating. There's been little in the way of context or perspective in most of it. There's plenty of blame to go around for the failures post-Katrina but there's been no discussion of what went right. Make sure you read the comments too.
When I hear the talking heads lambaste local officials for not sounding the alarm early enough, I want to hit one of them. For the entire 48 hours before the storm, there was nothing else on the local TV and radio but Katrina. Even before they made evacuations "mandatory" things were discussed in dire terms. On Saturday, this storm was described as "a life changing event". Residents who chose not to evacuate at that point were already being advised to have a hatchet or axe handy to hack through their roofs. This wasn't just local news media saying these things, it was the local officials. From Saturday morning on we were urged in the strongest terms to get out of town.
Contraflow was enacted on Saturday at 3pm, an hour earlier than we were told it would be. It was made abundantly clear that the terms "voluntary" and "mandatory" evacuation were designations with particular legal ramifications. It didn't matter what the evacuation was called technically, it only mattered that we board up, pack up, and get away. The advice only got more dire on Sunday when the technicalities were sorted out and the Orleans parish evacuation was deemed "mandatory". It's not often you hear a state governor telling people who choose to ignore the evacuation order to write the social security numbers on their arms so they can be identified later.
I should also note that calling the Orleans Parish evacuation mandatory "late" on Sunday morning, roughly 21 hours before landfall, was in keeping with the staggered evacuation plan that had evolved out of the painful Georges and Ivan events. Low lying areas were evacuated first and Orleans and East Jefferson last. It would have been called for sooner in keeping with the state plan's timeline, but they couldn't make the evacuation order at 4 in the morning. My guess is they wanted people to actually hear it. I should also note that the storm both sped up and enlarged, cutting the planned evacuation time that much shorter.
As the Gulfsails blog points out, getting 80% of the Greater New Orleans area population out in roughly 48 hours is rather amazing (the 80% figure is a current common estimate). Especially when you consider the small number of routes out and the minimum distance we had to travel to get "safe". Watching the Houston/Galveston evacuation -- without any contraflow or staggering in place -- there's plenty to learn from Louisiana about what we did right as well as what we did wrong.Sun, 25 Sep 2005
Jennifer recently received some pictures from her Mid-City office location. I spotted this posting on nola.com's Mid-City forum. It clearly referenced Jennifer's office. The lawyer with the office next to hers had been there. Jennifer responded to the post and the lawyer sent her these pictures. I left out two more pictures since they were of the lawyer's office and didn't want to identify her unnecessarily. They showed pictures of brown and moldy files and water up to the top of her desk. Here's the direct link to three pictures from Jennifer's office at North Clark and Iberville.
So Jennifer and I have been sick the last few days up here in Madison and not sleeping so great. We woke up Saturday not long after Rita made landfall and flipped on the TV. Of course they had the usual shots of reports standing out in the wind and rain trying to impress us with their macho heroics and scenes of signs and lightpoles bending and crashing.
Then anchors Tony Green and Catherine Calloway are interviewing Rep Gene Green of Texas and Tony decides to veer off the script a bit:
HARRIS: Representative Green, all right, let me go off the beaten path for a second. Evacuation drills, why not institute as a civil exercise -- you just mentioned that we learned something from all of these storms. Why not find out ahead of time if our evacuation plans will actually work? Why not institute an evacuation drill? We give everybody a half a day off or whatever is necessary and we try the plan out?
Jennifer and I never even heard Gene's answer we were giggling so hard. Tony made this goofy face at the end of the question as if in speaking it aloud, he suddenly realized how rediculous this was.
We laughed a good bit at the notion of everyone just leaving work one day and driving to Dallas for no reason other than seeing how it works.
Actually, as Rep Green pointed out, there's no need for drills. While LA didn't do such a good job of getting folks out who didn't own cars, the "contraflow" evacuation for those that did have means of transport worked better than it had in the past. We generally didn't have those scenes of misery on the highway. We had already done it during Georges in '98, and Ivan last year and worked out some of the kinks. I'm not saying that nine hours to Jackson was pretty, but it was within the realm of reasonable expectations.
The inane questions some of these goons ask kills me. I'm getting tired of hearing these guys try to foment controversy by asking if Nagin's plan to repopulate the city is at odds with the National Guard and FEMA. Earth to moron journalists: Our homes were flooded. It's been a month since most of us have seen them. We'd like to get in, assess the damage, deal with our insurers, and salvage what little we can. We're not talking about moving back in tomorrow.
This set of pictures came from early in the crisis. The photographer was working with Search and Rescue and is a native of New Orleans. He talks about passing specific locations where he was born or where his parents went to school. I'm looking at the pictures and not being there but feeling the same things. Got the link form corknola.blogspot.com.Tue, 20 Sep 2005
From the LA
For some reason, I found that interesting.Fri, 16 Sep 2005
First picture of our house. 9/15/2004. Water line about a foot
More at http://www.scottharney.com/album/Katrina/. Not much else to say....
I go through a range of emotions, but basically there are two sides to it. On the one side, I am hopeful and optimistic. Yes, our home was damaged, but it doesn't appear to be totalled. We have flood and homeowner's insurance. We evacuated with all of our photos, important papers, clothes including suits and Jennifer's wedding dress. We got all of our pets out with us. I still have a full time job and a full time paycheck. We are staying with friends who have been soooo kind to us and not in a shelter. My family and friends are well and many of them have undamaged homes waiting for them. We are so much more blessed than so many others out there and we know it.
Yeah, this is putting on a brave face but you've got to try and find the positive in all of this. By putting on that face, you help yourself stay up. My wife's a pychologist, so I know how this works.
flip. On the other side.....
Enormous frustration and despair. We LOST OUR HOUSE. It's only one story and three rooms. We took a foot of water but it might as well have been 10 feet because who knows when or if we'll be able to live in it again. The longer we're out, the worse the mold gets and we can't get in to clean it or even assess the damage. We can't get an insurance adjustor in and no matter how much coverage we have, they'll be out to minimize claims any way they can. Where the heck are we supposed to live? How are we going to pay rent and a mortgage on a house we can't live in?
We lost our other car. No, it wasn't a great car, but it's gone now. Jennifer lost both of her offices. Chances are she won't be able to cover the physical losses with insurance or FEMA and how on Earth is she going to rebuild that business?
Yeah, I've got a full time job. For now. For how long? Sure companies are going to put on a brave face and I know my employer is genuinely motivated to help us out and keep things running. But this is an enormous and expensive strain. Good intentions may not be enough to usurp financial realities.
Every time I speak to an insurance company, FEMA, or some service we owe monthly bills to like our cell phone company, I leave the conversation on the verge of rage. Everyone's out to protect their own assets. It's every company and every man for themselves.
Life is tough. Get over it. You're on your own. You've got it better than other folks so you can just tough it out and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. What's your problem anyway? You're upsetting me. Can we change the subject? I've got my own problems to deal with. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.Thu, 15 Sep 2005
Jon at Cork and Bottle hits the nail on the head with his comments yesterday morning. Click here to read them. Definitely know how you feel Jon (I'd link straight to it, but there aren't anchors on the page to individual stories. As Jon notes at the top, MS Word is a lousy HTML editor).Wed, 14 Sep 2005
Our neighbor, Charlie, was able to get in because his company supports Cox Cable in the city. Charlie lives about 2 blocks down from us, so there's no pictures of our block or house here. No surprises in these pictures based on what we've read so far from corknola.com and elsewhere. Charlie's been a good neighbor, taking the time to shut off gas and power to all the houses in the neighborhood to prevent potential fires. His wife has sent out detailed emails to all the neighbors so we know what's going on.
Woke up last night at 3:30am as I have every night since the Saturday before the storm. This was one of the nights that I couldn't get back to sleep, though, probably because of the impact of these pictures. So many thoughts surging through my head -- all questions. When can we get in? How bad will it be? What do I need to buy now to start cleaning up? Will we really be in Metairie by next week? How long will we be out of a house? How much will we get for our insured losses? Should we stay in New Orleans? If not where can we live? Will we love another place as much as we love New Orleans? And how can New Orleans really recover? Can we really leave our friends, neighbors and my family in the city? When do I get Callie and Tobey from Kentucky? etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.....
Anyway, here's the direct link to the first pictures, so close to our house.Mon, 12 Sep 2005
Last pic before leaving, Sunday August 28, ~11:20am.
Sat image of flooding from NOAA.gov. Still have a roof by the look of things. From the floodmap at http://mapper.cctechnol.com/floodmap.php and information gleaned from http://www.corknola.com, we've got a few feet of water in the house. *sigh*Sun, 11 Sep 2005
So I guess I'll start at the beginning. Or at least where I perceive that to be. Friday was a normal day for us. Katrina was in the Southeastern Gulf and all indications were that she was heading to the already well-battered Florida panhandle. By late in the workday, some of my coworkers were fearing that the models were starting to show a NOLA landfall. But the models were changing widly at that point. The lack of consistency in the models at that point was worrying, but not too much. Not yet.
Jennifer and I grabbed our Cafe Degas coupon from the Gambit and headed out for a great dinner. Late that night, I got home and took a peek at the noaa.gov NHC page and the forecast track had moved. The storm was projected dead center over NOLA. I felt a ball in my gut. I didn't say a word to Jennifer hoping that it would be moved by the time the 5am or 11am Sat morning tracks came out.
It was not to be. At 7:45am my phone rang. It was work. We needed to batten down the hatches and transfer our operations to the disaster recovery site. The fact that we hadn't done so as soon as Katrina crossed Florida is in an indication of how low the expectation was that she was heading towards New Orleans.
Work was frantic and tense. We'd tested this numerous times and even done a few real runs, such as for Danny earlier in the year. But this felt much different. People were tense. Many folks I called to coordinate with were already on their way out of town.
I scrambled to get things set up. I managed to pack a box of tapes that were missed and have those sent out of town too. Probably should have loaded up the tape drives as well but you just don't think that fast.
I got home and consulted with my friend and neighbor Greg about our wood stash. We spent the rest of the day boarding up his house and part of mine. (I have some shutters) We commented on how alarmingly routine this was all becoming as he had boarded up several times now since moving in.
Greg would actually leave overnight. Jennifer and I wanted to hang in and see if the storm would do as all the others have and veer off to the east. We were tense. At this point I was more anxious to just go than Jennifer. We went out for Sushi and actually found Sake Cafe on Magazine was open and fairly busy. We argued over evacuation at dinner. We had a glass of wine at the Bridge Lounge on Magazine and headed for home. I wondered if those bartenders, waiters, and cooks had begun packing.
3:30 am and we were both wide awake. Jennifer went to the front room to read. I got up and tiptoed to the back bedroom to check all the weather details and forums at wwltv.com. There would be a morning news conference and it was speculated that Mayor Nagin would order the first ever mandatory evacuation of Orleans Parish. The storm had blossomed in the hot waters of the Gulf to what would be it's highest strength: A Cat5 with 175mph sustained winds and central pressure at 908mb. There was no more debate or even discussion, we knew we'd start final packing at first light. It was monsterously huge and unlike other powerful hurricanes, the eye was an expansive 30 miles across with hurricane force winds extending something like 125 miles out from the center. This was the storm they'd always warned us about. It was close enough that New Orleans would inevitably take a severe hit.
At 6am Jennifer and I hopped in the car and drove out to her office in New Orleans east hoping that we could get in and get her license and diplomas off the wall. The roads were empty at this point. Surprisingly, we got in to the building and got the critical stuff. All the while planning what we would pack from the house
The news was on. Even as we began loading up suitcases and making decisions, the time of our departure kept moving up. The storm was moving faster and enlarging. We would have left later to dodge traffic but that strategy didn't seem smart anymore. We got all our important papers, photo albums, work clothes, wedding dress, and suit. You make some pretty quick decisions about what stays and what goes. Of course we also had a German Shepherd (Callie), our pug(Bugsy), our friend Jimbo's pug (Etta, he had already been out of town) and my cat Tobey. All of this to pack in a 4 door Saturn.
Even as I was doing the last minute boarding up and yard clearing, the neighbors behind us were relaxing in the yard and seemed to be snickering at me a bit as they smoked a joint. By 11am we were loaded down. My parents were running too. Everyone in my family. I boarded up the front door and even as I did various characters were pedaling by on their bicycles, eyeing us up. I wouldn't be surprised if we weren't looted before we even left.
We started to get on the I-10 before Elysian Fields heading north to the contraflow on I-59 and then up through Hattiesburg to Jackson. But Nagin had delivered his mandatory order and roads that were clear just an hour before had filled up. I exited I-10 at Franklin and we took Hayne as far out east as I could before entering the fray. That little trick probably saved us an hour off of our evacuation.
I was worried about two things now. Gas and our tires. We were heavy loaded with us, 4 animals, and our luggage. I had filled up two nights before thinking this was a remote possibility and I wanted to have a tank of gas, but we'd done a bit of running about. I knew that sitting in traffic would eat our gas supply down.
The first battle was just getting to the contraflow start point at the I-10/I-12/I-59 split. That trip would've taken 30 minutes tops from New Orleans East but took us somewhere over two hours. Traffic was moving, just really really slow. Just getting over the twin spans and the already surging water was a relief. It was still early but clouds were rolling in. And on the radio we were hearing of the huge tangle now leaving town. How many would even make it out, we wondered.
We hit the split and suddenly we were moving. Our phone worked again and we called family to let them know we were on our way. They'd been trying to reach us but couldn't The relief didn't last, unfortunately, we got 12 miles into Mississippi and hit a huge snarl that held up all 4 lanes of contraflow. We figured that they must've ended contraflow somewhere up ahead. It was only 2:30pm and it wasn't supposed to end until 4 and it was supposed to go all the way to Meridian.
Sure enough at Poplarville the traffic all merged back to normal lanes. People were pulled over everywhere stopping to let kids and pets take a pee break. It was spongy and slow. I was watching the gas tank warily. Clouds were building up behind us. We were starting to hear frantic tales of people running out of gas on I-59. People still stuck hours behind in New Orleans, not even to New Orleans East yet. If we had waited, perhaps we would have been stuck in the dome too....
We were able to talk with John -- we were heading to his home in Madison, MS north of Jackson -- and get some possible alternate routes. I got off of I-59 at Hattiesburg and onto Highway 45. We stopped and got gas and took our first break. We tried to get a subway sandwich but they were out of bread. As we let the dogs take a breather, it started raining hard. We got in the car and started heading north on a surprisingly empty road. The clouds were moving and angry. It felt now like we were literally running away from the storm.
We took a couple of back highways into Jackson and all of it was smooth sailing. Our evacuation took us 8 exhausting hours. John and Stacey and the kids welcomed all of us into their home. We watched TV until after midnight as the rain started up.
Jennifer and I didn't sleep much. The weather started moving in. The storm would still be a Cat2 by the time it got to Jackson/Meridian with 100mph winds. None of us had ever heard of a storm retaining that much strength that far inland. The news had the usual footage of idiot reporters at towns on the outer edges of the storm standing in the street. The only thing from New Orleans we'd heard was about the dome springing a leak and several hotels losing Windows. The Mississippi coast at this point was an unknown.
The winds outside were powerful. I was wondering if we shouldn't close the storm shutters. The most jarring moments came when we first heard the tornado warning siren. John, Stacey and the kids huddled in one closet and us and the dogs in the other. I thought how awful it would be to evacuate all the way up here only to get waylaid by a tornado.
Surprisingly, we never lost power up here. We were one of the few neighborhoods in greater Jackson that did not. Thus we had the internet and news on the whole time. Late in the day reports began to trickle in. New Orleans seemed spared a direct hit. The silence from the MS Gulf Coast, though, was telling. We got raw flyover footage on the news channel up here. I was correcting WDSU reporters on the locations they were seeing, yelling at the TV. Things weren't looking all that bad. Late that night, though, we'd heard about the breach in the 17th street Canal. Whatever hopes we had for our home were fading because we knew what that meant (Even if public officials, apparently, did not).
Of course, we didn't sleep. Sleep has been a rare event since this all started over a week ago. By morning we were watching the news. The 17th street canal breach and the subsequent flood was the big talk. Seeing a CNN meteorologist refer to "Bucktown" as he pointed out the breach brought me to tears for the first time since the storm. I feared that everything I had ever known in the town that I was raised in would be lost. CNN reporters aren't supposed to know what "Bucktown" is, or "Mid City" (some didn't, the called it "Midtown"), or the Marigny, the Bywater, the Ninth Ward ("Ward Number Nine") etc.
Of course, everyone knows what happened next. Or, rather, didn't happen. Everything fell apart. Our personal drama continued and heightened when we discovered Jennifer's uncle Berkley had chosen to remain at his home in Riverbend. He had hoped that his engineering skills would be useful and needed after the storm. Instead he found himself in a dangerous sitatuation. The neighborhood was dry, but now there were gangs of looters. We received intermittent contact from him via 3rd hand information sources. He had a vehicle and wanted to make a break for it down River Road into Metairie but knew he would likely be dodging carjackers.
We posted to numerous online forums, explaining the desperate situation. TV was focusing on the dome and convention center, but dry ground anywhere in New Orleans was unsafe ground. We received numerous offers of help and kind words. Jennifer's Dad and uncle, Berkley's brothers, had other ideas. They started driving towards New Orleans. Berkley, in the meantime, planned an escape. I frantically sent out text messages to both parties, trying to give known routes out of New Orleans, and directions to where we were. Amazingly, they got those messages and eventually we found that they had indeed decided to converge on Madison. They arrived from opposite directions at almost at the same time.
Berkley had hauled another local family with him. When we got back to the house, it was clear he had been frightened by the chaotic scene. He had had more stare downs in the streets in two days than he had had in his entire 20+ years in New Orleans. When I told him he could unload now, he pulled out two separate pistols, and there was a shotgun behind the truck seat as well. We could all sleep for once. In fact, the following night Jennifer and I got our first full night's sleep
Suffice to say, we really haven't rested easy since. The deluge of images on the television and the hard reality that our home is full of water has set in. The anger at useless politicians and government stupidity has set in as well. We have OK days and days that are less than OK. We know how much more fortunate we are than so many others affected by this, but it's still harsh. We'll be fine, though. In the long run, we'll be fine.