Friday, November 18, 2005

Out Grrl: No Reference Polls. Just What the Good Folks are Saying.

Out grrl, a resident of NOLA and a diarist at dKos, is keeping a record of her experiences in the city. This entry explains:

Last weekend I returned to NOLA for the first time since the hurricane. I left in July to get the house in Atlanta ready to use as a rental with a plan to return next spring or fall. This diary is a list of oberservation I made while I was there. I originally made the list for my personal friends, but have been asked to post it here. When I am a better blogger, I will drop some pictures if folks are interested.

Please keep in mind that these are things I heard and saw while on the ground with my Pirates. I don't have references or poll numbers. It is what the good folks are saying.

Later from the same post:

Good thing - F stepped thigh deep into the muck at D and B's house. He went out to find a clean pair of pants, some sanitizer and a shot of antibiotics. At the relief station, two older women flagged him down and asked "Are you a 30-32? We have been looking for a 30-32 all day." They had a pile of 30-32s and were on a mission to find a man to put them on. They gave him a pair of designer men's pants. So F kept working in designer dress pants.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Class action lawsuit against FEMA

Benjamin T. Greenberg, blogger and "In These Times" contributor, is publishing details from a class action lawsuit against FEMA on his blog, "HungryBlues." Pamela Jackson is one of the plaintiffs:
Pamela Jackson is 37 years old and has seven children who live with her ex-husband. Hoping to regain custody of at least some of her children, Ms. Jackson saved for months and bought a trailer with room for her young children two weeks before Hurricane Katrina, with arrangements to move into it within a few weeks. When Ms. Jackson returned to New Orleans after having been evacuated, she learned that her trailer survived Hurricane Katrina with only minor, repairable damage. Ms. Jackson got the materials she needed to make the repairs, but when she returned to her trailer, it had been moved from its plot in the trailer park to an area where it is no longer connected to gas, electricity or plumbing. She had been evicted so that room could be made in the trailer park for FEMA trailers. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Jackson had dreamed of the day when she would once again have a home with her kids. Ms. Jackson has been told, however, that if she does not soon remove her trailer from where it was subsequently placed, it would be destroyed. Ms. Jackson has nowhere to relocate her trailer because FEMA will not permit her to place her own trailer on the land that FEMA has leased for its trailers and the other trailer parks in the area have raised their rates beyond Ms. Jackson’s means. When Hurricane Katrina struck, Ms. Jackson was living in St. Bernard Parish, where she rented a room. Although she received $2358 from FEMA prior to returning to New Orleans, she was never told how the money could be used. She used it for clothing, food, and shelter, and currently has almost nothing remaining.
Mr. Greenberg has posted numerous other stories like this one this month. The complaint itself is online at FindLaw. From the complaint's preamble, via Greenberg:
1. The federal agency charged by statute to care for Americans who are victims of natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), failed to fulfill its mandate before, during and after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. As a result, more than two months after the tragedy, thousands of Americans continue to be victimized, this time by bureaucratic inaction, indifference and incompetence. FEMA has failed to provide temporary housing assistance to these disaster victims in violation of the plain requirements of federal law. The poor and vulnerable – including children, the elderly, and the disabled – are suffering the most.

2. As of this late date, FEMA has:
• Failed to provide any temporary housing assistance to certain individuals and families, including those with disabilities, who applied for help as much as two months ago;
• Failed to provide basic information to disaster victims regarding the scope and conditions of the available temporary housing assistance, including how they can continue to receive financial assistance beyond the initial three month period;
• Denied temporary housing assistance to individuals who lived at the same address, but in a separate home as another, unrelated, person who also applied for housing assistance;
• Refused to provide additional temporary housing assistance to families that, because of their size, were entitled to more than the standard amount of housing assistance;
• Required disaster victims to apply for Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loans as a condition for obtaining FEMA temporary housing assistance; and
• Imposed retroactively inconsistent rules regarding funds some victims have already received.
A New York Times article notes that "The plaintiffs are not seeking damages, but immediate assistance."

The Mythical Month of January in New Orleans

On NPR -- The Mythical Month of January in New Orleans:
Michael Depp has been back home in New Orleans for a few weeks. He says that whenever a few residents get together to talk, they inevitably bring up the month of January...
January. It is all we talk about in New Orleans -- a word we return to in every conversation that we have. January. For us, January promises one simple and solitary fact: some schools and universities will reopen. But we have pinned so much more on January.
Via lesbontemps at "The Second Line Continues."

More Katrina memoirs: N'Awlins Girl

N'Awlins Girl, "A Room of My Own, Part I":
The Thursday before Katrina, we were watching a small storm heading towards Florida or Alabama. Things changed the next evening. Usually, when a storm is coming, we are constantly glued to the television, sometimes for days. However, none of us were worried about this one. Even on Friday afternoon, I heard one of my co-workers say, “Are you leaving for this one?” Another answered, “Nah, no big deal. It’ll be like all the others.”

I left work on Friday afternoon, and on the way to my house, I heard the weather guys on the radio, and they had a bit more concern in their voice. I spent that night in stage one of hurricane-prep mode, on the phone in front of the television. [...]

Good Louisiana shoppers are raised with a mental checklist of hurricane supplies: batteries, bottled water, flashlights, candles, canned goods, etc. In Sav-A-Center, I found that I was one of the early ones this time. Usually, about three days before we get word of a storm, all of these things sell out. But this time, it was strange. The store was quiet, and there were plenty of supplies. The only other hurricane preparer that I met was from Eden Isles. We spent a few minutes discussing the importance of the scent of the candles we were purchasing. It is important – no one wants a rank-smelling candle providing your only light for days on end when your air conditioner is broken. I hope she is OK.
She's up to part IV now. "lesbontemps" coblogs with her at "The Second Line Continues."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tales of the great flood: auryn24, "a nurse with a little bit of attitude"

The September 5 posting by Liz, aka "auryn24," formerly a nurse at Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East, Hurricane Katrina update #4--final update.:
I believe it was Wednesday that the helicopters started coming in and landing/hovering on the roof. We began to ship patients off of the floor to the 6th floor/roof to be shipped out to the helicopters. We watched in awe as the Navy blackhawks hovered, lowered down baskets, and picked patients up. However, getting the patients up to the 6th floor via very small stairwells that smelled like rotting garbage (1st floor=stagnant water) and diesel fuel (to run the generators) was NOT FUN. [...]

Thursday night, we started to ship out some of the staff families that had small children with them. The visitors (which mind you, ELECTED TO STAY) found out about it, and started a screaming match and throwing things. I was sitting in the middle of the hall with my coworkers (who were in more need of sleep that me) watching all of this, listening, trying to protect my coworkers. The dialysis nurses came running down the hall and LOCKED themselves into the dialysis room. They made sure to tell me that if things got too bad, we could come and lock ourselves in too. I got a flashlight shined in my face and I could hear the visitors (the SAME VISITORS I GAVE MY PORTION OF WATER TO INSTEAD OF DRINKING IT MYSELF) say "there are those nurses. If we see them leave, I will stab them."[...]

I just want away from the sights and sounds of New Orleans for awhile. I will be in the Dallas area for 2 weeks. Tomorrow I make a claim on my Explorer, try to find a job (I want to do travel nursing here in Dallas...hopefully work at Baylor in Grapevine. Anyone that knows of travel agencies that provide cars/living arrangements/insurance, let me know). My health insurance runs out on the 30th of this month. I will be calling UHS to see what they can help me with. Maybe one day, MAYBE, I can go back to New Orleans. Maybe my coworkers with do the same.

I miss them so much. Those are the people that mean the most to me. I saw them sweat, bleed, cry, pray, pour their souls out. I hate that some of them I will never see again. They are gone, Methodist is gone, New Orleans is gone.
The August 29 phone post:
Hey everybody its Liz. It is 5:15am and I am holed up still at Methodist and the weathers gettin really bad here. The lights have been flickering for the last 3 or 4 hours I guess and you can hear the wind and the rain pounding against the windows. So, anyway, I just thought I'd let everybody know how I'm doing, Im ok, so far this thing has not come ashore yet. It'll probably, um, it looks like its going to hit Gulfport before it hits us, so anyway, I just thought Id let everybody know. Ya'll take care, you can still call me on my cell phone if you want. Bye.
Go here for auryn24's latest.

Whistling Past Someone Else's Graveyard

In NOLA there is no dearth of signs like this:


popping up all over street corners and other high-visibility sites, advertising jobs, loans, cleaning and restoration services, "house gutting", and often just that businesses closed for storm damage have re-opened again. Among these are always the ones announcing "Katrina lawsuits" and legal assistance.



In yesterday's NYTimes, the editorial noticed that Katrina survivors, having had enough of Bush's compassionate conservatism, are taking matters into their own hands:
"Public outrage is clearly growing over the federal government's woefully inadequate program for housing the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Last week a group of survivors filed the first of what are likely to be several lawsuits alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has failed to live up to its responsibilities. The recovery effort has been subject to blistering criticism from conservative, nonpartisan and liberal groups alike.
The same basic question is this: Why did the Bush administration focus on trailer parks built by FEMA - which is actually not a housing agency - instead of giving the lead role to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has so much experience on this issue?"
"Outrage" barely expresses it. Everywhere you go in New Orleans and environs you can see the anger, written on the sides of buildings ("Screw you, Nagin, we made our own plan"), spelled out on broken signs with magnetic letters ("Where was FEMA?"), scrawled on the ruined appliances that litter the streets ("Build a crap wall. What Katrina left, Wilma will take"), on homemade signs propped up in the piles of detritus and trash unbiquitous to the curbs in front of almost every house ("Evacuate Broussard" "Thanks, Aaron!"), and on the T-shirts sold by small vendors in the Quarter ("FEMA: Federal Employees Missing Again").

That anger shouted eloquently from the buildings of New Orleans, gave voice to the diaspora long since departed and the powerless still trapped inside. Here is what I wrote on 10/26/05 in the journal I kept while down there:
"The broken bodies of rotted and collapsed buildings have become billboards for the anger and pain of the people of NOLA and the towns surrounding it. Sprawled over 4 corners (of an intersection) and down half the city blocks beyond, piles of ruined stuffed animals 6 or 7 feet high, the ruins of a warehouse that held a man's entire livelihood. Delicate little houses with wrought ironwork and still-vibrant paint jobs, broken, rotting, and abandoned for miles. The fluorescent red or orange "X" painted on house after house, a sign left by those who entered searching for bodies or the still-living in need of rescue. At the top is the date of inspection--most are dated around 9/15 or later, some as late as early October. On the left, the initials of the inspecting group.

9th Ward

At the bottom, the number of dead found; usually that was a "0", meaning none. To see a number other than the struck through zero there always gave me a chill. The letters in the right side of the cross still remain a mystery. Sometimes they seemed to indicate a direction, as in "NE". Other times they made no sense at all. And often I'd see "TFW" written (inside a circle). I still don't know what it is. The SPCA would sometimes weigh in, as well. Their messages were easy to decipher: "K-9 moved to corner"; "1 dog alive"; "2 cats under house"; and sometimes "no dogs" or "1 dead cat".
Between these signs and messages, and the words written by the ones who had to leave in anger and bitterness, even the parts of NOLA that are still and lifeless vibrate with a thousand voices, reaching out to communicate with anyone who comes after. "Help! Help! Help!" reads the house on the street in the lower Ninth Ward. Places where not a living thing moves can make the tears come, when you read the stories that have been left there. Holes in roofs torn by the desperate, trapped inside their houses while trying to escape rising waters, still gape to remind us of their terror.
To imagine living here, constantly facing the massive deconstruction on every corner, in every yard, with your entire environment looking like one big landfill;

17th St Levee

to live growing numb to the ugliness; to expect mud, cracked earth, endless dust, to always be hacking and coughing, living with low-level respiratory ailments; to wait without hope for salvation from the insurance company, the city, the federal government, to live with price gouging. To live in tents.
At home it has rained endlessly, and been cold. Here, the sun has shone everyday, and the earth is parched. Hurricane Wilma's hellacious winds sent water into the Ninth Ward again Tuesday, and what small progress made there was halted.
Halloween in the Quarter I wish I could say I'll miss NOLA, or Louisiana, but I won't. It's too flat for my soul, and I miss the seasons. Fall doesn't exist here, at least in a way that makes sense to a Yankee. The few Halloween decorations I've noticed look as out of place as a Christmas tree in the middle of a bandstand on a summer night. But most of all, I won't miss the constant low-level misery, the endless fighting back against despair that is the lot of every person here. I've come to love the strength, humor, and compassion of the local people. But I don't have enough of any of those qualities to bear their miseries."
On my day off wandering the French Quarter, one of the last people I talked to before leaving New Orleans was a small, sweet Filipino woman who ran a little souvenir shop across from the French Market. She told me how her children,ages 10 to 16, lived in Florida now because there was no place for them to stay since the storm had destroyed her house. How she was waiting and waiting and waiting for FEMA to provide her with a trailer. How the insurance company had kissed her off. How determined she was to stay on and keep trying. I told her about the Vietnamese community of Willowbrook, still deprived of power and water and being pressured to allow their land to be condemned, and the people of Lakeview, who came up to our trucks sobbing, who told us of having no income for 2 months and being made to jump through hoops by the city (set up an inspection of the property which will take half a month, then wait, then send in over $100 for the permit) in order to repair their homes. I shared with her the stories other residents had shared with me, and it made her feel less alone. We hugged and cried together.

One of the striking things about the NOLA area was the brightly colored blue tarps I had seen on roofs everywhere since I'd been down there, and shortly after my conversation with the souvenir shop owner, I learned what it was all about. A few blocks down I met an Army Corps of Engineers engineer, who had been inspecting buildings for the FEMA Blue Roof program. As it turns out. this is nothing more than plastic sheeting installed over the damaged areas, in order to stem any further damages from the elements, until the homeowner can pay someone to fix it. If the damage is too extensive (50% or more) or makes the roof structurally unsound, it disqualifies the applicant for assistance. He told me about the Blue Roof program, and how the ACE works with FEMA on it. This is what one of their notices looks like when it goes up on a property that fails to conform to the criteria for eligibility:

French Quarter

We also talked about what we had seen in the Ninth Ward, and he told me of a little old woman with problems getting around who refused to leave her house (no one was supposed to be cleared to stay there at the time). I gave him the cell phone number for one of my Red Cross supervisors so he could pass on her location. Later I learned from one of the supervisors that ERV crews had seen an old woman there rocking on her porch. I don't know what, if anything, they did.

And this is what FEMA puts up when they are trying to get in to inspect a property where the owner has requested assistance, and the owner is not at home.

French Quarter

The owner may have been applying from Texas or New York, for all I know, which could account for them not being home. Whether FEMA would be aware of those circumstances would, I guess, depend on whether they are currently being run as a real agency or just a money-laundering crony employment initiative. But the condition of the house in question, which was obviously damaged and shuttered on a street with very little sign of life, might give a clue:

French Quarter

Public outrage? Not nearly enough. The majority of those affected are still reeling from massive psychological damage. Struggling just to get by from one day to the next makes it hard to think about the political and legal affronts that facilitated your misery. It takes awhile to organize behind that. People continue to suffer without power or water or transportation or easy access to food. The most common request from the people we served from the trucks was for ice. Yet for some reason people think ice is no longer an issue. Illness is rampant. Businesses are struggling to open. Jobs go begging because there is no place to live. There is no real infrastructure. Migrant workers have been shipped in to do the dangerous work of salvage, and are being forced to sleep in buses or in tents in fields. Homelessness is starting to climb again, now that the evictions have started and the vulturine landlord class has price-jacked rents. The displaced are sleeping with their children in tents while trying to find or keep jobs.


The outrage is that for some reason many people have put this unprecedented disaster behind them, and think that it will all be over in a year or two. The outrage is that Bush and his coterie of fratboys and creeps still animate the governmental corpse like a cabal of voodoo priests, and that not once since the embarrassment of the initial inconvenient slaughter has he willingly looked in on the progress being made in the Gulf Coast, or offered anything like an open hand to its ravaged victims, 5000 of whom remain missing in action. The outrage is that he still sits in the White House, and the rest of us yawn and go back to picking lint from our navels, or whatever it is that passes for quality time spent in America these days, and wait for someone else to fix everything.

(Posted at several other sites, too, because I'm sick as a dog with the New Orleans Crud and don't have the energy. Forgive me.)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Institute for Southern Studies: Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch

Who's watching the Gulf? We are:
While Gulf residents focus on picking up the pieces, a handful of powerful interests -- well-connected contractors, unscrupulous developers, ambitious politicians -- are cutting deals and hatching plans to capitalize on the disaster.

But who's watching them?

We are. Today, the Institute for Southern Studies and Southern Exposure have launched an
urgent new project to watch-dog what's happening in the Southern Gulf, and promote a more democratic and accountable future: Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch.
The announcement is posted at the ISS "Facing South" blog. The organizers are hoping for support from surfers like you:
1) Be a Gulf Watcher: Active readers like you can help us find important news and leads. Send us an anonymous tip here:


2) Get Active: Reconstruction Watch will feature regular action steps you can take to support those working for a just and accountable rebuilding in the Gulf.

3) Support our Investigative Fund: Contributions from readers like you are what make our award-winning investigative reports and progressive voice possible.

Your support today will help us expand our coverage and increase the impact of Reconstruction Watch.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

New Orleans at night

Compiled by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Both this and the prior entry via the livejournal New Orleans community.

That's so sweet

New Orleans is for Lovers:
Toxic mold blooms, but so does love.

(Couple take a break while salvaging items from their home near West End)
Click through for the photo, by NOLAn "infrogmation."

Returning Home

Medea Benjamin, at AlterNet, writes about the difficulties of returning home when home is New Orleans:

Giselle Smith, a single mom with three children, is younger and more resilient. In early October she returned to her home near the French Quarter, an area that only got two feet of water. "I love living in this district," she said, " and I couldn't wait to get back. I know all my neighbors, they help me with the kids, and during Mardi Gras, we just go out our door and we're right in the thick of it," she laughed. The day she returned, Ms. Smith got to work cleaning up the house. She ripped up the buckled floors and put in new tiles, she scrubbed off the mold and repainted. By the end of the month her modest home was clean as a whistle. But Ms. Smith had a different problem. She was a renter.

She'd been renting the same house for 11 years, just like she had the same job as a parking lot attendant for all those years. The neighbors attested that she was a good worker, a good tenant and a good mom. But the very day that the governor lifted the moratorium on evictions, her landlord presented her with an eviction notice. The reason? Failure to pay September's rent. The Smiths, like everyone else in the city, had been forced to evacuate, and her home had no electricity or water or sewage. She also had to pay rent in Houston for September, and didn't have money to pay rent in two places.

Ms. Smith is determined to fight the eviction, and local lawyers have come to her aid. But the real reason for the eviction notice is that houses that didn't flood are at a premium and her landlord, like many others, is eager to cash in. Ms. Smith's neighbors down the block were paying $800 rent until they came home to find their rent jacked up to $1,300. By end of the week her long-time neighbors, a black family, had packed up and a white family took their place.

The story includes information about ways to help people return to their homes:

At the grassroots level, there are remarkable community activists like Malik Rahim, who has turned his home on the dry west bank of Algiers into the Common Ground Collective, a hub for hundreds of volunteers, a free medical clinic and many tons materials aid. Another extraordinary local figure is Mama D, whose home in Ward Seven has become a similar beehive of support for those returning home. Both are encouraging volunteers, skilled and "generalists", to join them -- anytime for any amount of time. During Thanksgiving week, Nov. 22-29, Common Ground is calling for a mass convergence on New Orleans help clean up the Ninth Ward (see

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Civil engineers report on levee failures

The American Society of Civil Engineers has investigated the levee failures in New Orleans. From the executive summary of their report ("Preliminary Report on the Performance of the New Orleans Levee Systems in Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005"):
Overtopping was most severe on the east side of the flood protection system, as the waters of Lake Borgne were driven west towards New Orleans, and also farther to the south, along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River. Significant overtopping and erosion produced numerous breaches in these areas. The magnitude of overtopping was less severe along the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) and along the western portion of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel, but this overtopping again produced erosion and caused additional levee failures. Field observations suggest that little or no overtopping occurred along most of the levees fronting Lake Pontchartrain, but evidence of minor overtopping and/or wave splashover was observed at a number of locations. There was a breach in the levee system at the northwest corner of the New Orleans East protected area, near the Lakeside Airport.

Farther to the west, in the Orleans East Bank Canal District, three levee failures occurred along the banks of the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals, and these failures occurred at water levels below the tops of the floodwalls lining these canals. These three levee failures were likely caused by failures in the foundation soils underlying the levees, and a fourth “distressed” levee/floodwall segment on the London Avenue Canal shows signs of having neared the occurrence of a similar failure prior to the water levels having receded.
In Senate testimony, lead ASCE investigator Peter Nicholson said he believed Congress should enact a National Levee Inspection and Safety Program modeled on the successful National Dam Safety Program (link):
The levee program, he said, "should include a national inventory of levees, particularly those that protect large, heavily populated urban areas." He encouraged Congress to establish an independent advisory panel responsible for envisioning the future of the Gulf Coast and proposing ways to begin the rebuilding efforts.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How Long Will It Take? Decades.

The damage is beyond description. But there are some bright spots.

From this:

NOLA 035

to this:


NOLA was a place of dramatic contrasts, beauty and alien weirdness. I spent 3 weeks down there with the Red Cross, working on an ERV crew and feeding the amazing people of the region. It's a war zone. You need to be there if you can. If you can't, do something else, something besides sending money. Every single one of us needs to step up and make a difference. If you can't go, the Red Cross could use you at your local chapter. The SPCA could use your help. Oxfam. Go. Surf. Check it out and do something. These are your brothers and sisters, your children and parents and grandparents, these people are your responsibility. You ARE your brother's keeper.

Harry Shearer's New Orleans series

At the Huffington Post, Harry Shearer (The Simpsons, etc., etc.) writes, in Goin' Back to New Orleans, Part Six:
I've spent the greater part of this week taking you along on my first visit back to my adopted hometown since Katrina, telling you what I saw and heard, smelled and felt--though some of you who commented didn't seem to quite grasp the concept. Now, back out of the zip code where the magic words are 'FEMA check' and the most important guy is the insurance adjuster, it's time to tell you what I think.

First, one final observation: on the rental car shuttle bus to the airport terminal, two men, one white and one black, were discussing The Situation (not Tucker Carlson's show on MSNBC by that name). One of the men said that the law of unintended consequences was being fully enforced in Mississippi, where the Red Cross was now giving everyone a substantial check, whether or not they showed any particular need. The result, he said: a lot of people weren't showing up for work, and local businesses were taking another hit. I have no idea if any of this is true or not, but it illustrates one widespread freeling that a lot of people in New Orleans seems to share: More than two months after Katrina hit and the floodwalls breached, this situation remains out of control. People are dealing with their own problems--the roof, the fridge, the adjuster, the city--but they seem to have a vague or not-so-vague unease about where this is all heading. No one is doing a credible leadership act.
See also parts 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, and 5. From Part 1:
When we made our approach, everyone craned to get a look out the windows, and the first visual that telegraphed the story to come was the sea of blue roofs, house after house on both sides of the lake that had received a blue tarp from somebody--FEMA?--to cover the damaged, or destroyed, roof.

It wss quiet in the airport, too, just because there aren’t a lot of folks flying in and out of town...yet. The display boards you see as you exit the terminal, the ones that always have ads for new drugs or new technical devices (aimed at the attendees to the never-ending flow of conventions), now bear no news of exciting or bewildering new products, just “public service” notices for the Red Cross and other agencies. And then, a reassuring sound in the main concourse: the airport, which always features New Orleans music on its sound system, was playing “You Got the Right Key, but the Wrong Keyhole” by the wonderfully wry Danny Barker.
The woman at the Hertz counter seemed almost overjoyed to see me, and when I asked what happened to the electronic board outside that used to display the location of your car, she uttered the word for the first time on my visit: “It was damaged during the...disaster,” she said softly.

Along the airport road to Interstate 10, the billboards that used to tout the conventions, the restaurants and the gentlemen’s clubs were blank, but there was reassurance on the car radio: WWOZ, the radio home of all great New Orleans music, was back on the air, and so, over on the AM dial, was Tom Fitzmorris, who normally fills three weekday hours talking about food. The callers were interested in chatting about restaurants and recipes, but they seemed equally interested in telling the host how glad they were that this little bit of normal life had returned. At last, somebody was on the radio not talking about FEMA.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The August 27 Katrina emergency declaration

Posted at my newsrack blog:
Was the declaration in fact in error? A check of other emergency and disaster declarations archived at FEMA suggests it was. First, both subsequent hurricane emergency declarations, for Hurricanes Ophelia and Rita, did not make the same mistake of excluding precisely those counties or parishes which were the likeliest sites of these hurricanes' landfalls. [...]

Second, it seems significant that the August 27 declaration was the first hurricane emergency declaration since 1999 -- and therefore the first since FEMA's absorption into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security in 2002.

Finally, as mentioned above, the final September 4 revision of the Katrina emergency declaration all but reversed the one made on August 27.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Situation Report for New Orleans, 11/4/2005

City Of New Orleans
Mayors Office of Communications
1300 Perdido Street, Suite 2E04
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
Situation Report for New Orleans
(New Orleans, LA) The City of New Orleans will release regular updates, or Situation Reports, detailing the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city and the progress of rebuilding efforts. Reports will be posted on the City's website,

A toll free information hotline had been set up for citizens offering a message with important information- 877-286-6431

As of Friday, November 4, 2005:

* Railroad crossing signals may not be functioning. Everyone should exercise caution when driving and crossing railroad tracks.

* In the targeted zip codes of 70112, 70113, 70114, 70115, 70116, 70118, 70130 and 70131, a 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in effect. No one may be outside on foot or in a vehicle at these times. Those areas include Algiers, the Central Business District, the French Quarter and Uptown. In all other areas, the curfew is 8 p.m. - 6 a.m.

9th Ward Re-Entry
All streets on the north and south side of North Claiborne Avenue are open for 'Look and Leave' visitation. Residents may return to see the extent of damage to their property and to gather personal valuables.

A command center will be located at North Claiborne and Caffin Avenues, and New Orleans Police Department and National Guard vehicles will be patrolling the streets if residents need assistance.

Nickels for Katrina

Nickels for Katrina (
Nickels for Katrina sells pixels for charity. By buying pixels you are entitled to display a graphic and a link to your site. Think of it as a digital billboard. All proceeds from Nickels for Katrina will be donated to the Red Cross. To donate now please visit
"RK" is at 9 over, 3 down.

Shell shock

Riggsveda, Red Cross volunteer ("Shell Shock"):
I got in last night after a long day in airports via Baton Rouge and Atlanta, and I'm decompressing right now. I'm taking a couple days off from work, and I'm not writing yet. It's turned out to be a much more complicated emotional journey than I expected, and I really need some time to process what I've been through. ARC mental health staff who interviewed me during outprocessing said it's normal, and that I will be working through a grieving period that could last a long time. In addition, the work was physically exhausting, and I came down with strep throat while I was there. I had no internet access, and hardly any access to news of the rest of the world, which was probably a blessing, given what was already on my agenda. Right now, away from the work and the situation and able to finally let down my defenses, I'm surprised to discover that despite a day off Friday and a day to outprocess Saturday, I'm exhausted physically and mentally, and operating on about 20% of my usual brain cells. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion, and a lot of what I'm experiencing doesn't yet seem real. I cry easily when I talk about the people of New Orleans, and it's because I fell in love with them. I don't know HOW I'll be able to go back to work in this state, but I know I need to go...they are short-handed right now.

I have 205 pictures, and a journal to glean stories from, as well as my own raw memories, so I will be telling quite a few tales soon. In the meantime, I really need to take my own time in getting the stories out, for my own mental well-being. That means I'll be writing soon, but not tomorrow, or the next day. I don't know when. Set up an office pool: 'Riggsveda will return on-line on 'X' date'. But soon. Be patient with me.
Later: some of those photos, here and here.

Mark Hancock - Photojournalism

Southeast Texas Entergy workers study maps of power lines in the parking lot of the Mall of Louisiana before they begin to restore power to parts of Baton Rouge, La.

Mark Hancock, a photojournalist, recorded his impressions of the days in Katrina's immediate wake.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Louisiana Bucket Brigade:
Heavy metals and gas and diesel compounds were among the chemicals detected in St. Bernard Parish, according to results released last night by two community groups that have been testing soil in the parish. 'What’s going to happen to us � are we going to get sick from going in and breathing all that?' asked Joy Lewis of the St. Bernard Citizens for Environmental Quality. Her concerns were echoed by the 85 residents in attendance who repeatedly expressed fears about their health and exposure to toxic chemicals.

Arsenic, cadmium and various benzene compounds were among the chemicals detected at levels that exceed EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) standards. The organizations financed fourteen soil samples at locations determined by St. Bernard Parish residents. The soil was put through five different types of analysis for hundreds of different compounds.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church, C.F. Rowley Elementary School and the neighborhood near the Murphy Oil spill were among the sites tested. Heavy metals were found in the soil on the school’s playground. 'Kids are always playing in the dirt and putting their hands in their mouths,' said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. 'Why aren’t our government agencies talking about these risks?' The Louisiana Bucket Brigade paid $20,000 for the soil sampling project.

Wilma Subra, a chemist and McArthur fellow who lives in New Iberia, put the results from the laboratories into a form that was easy for the residents to understand. Her presentation was made during a Tuesday night meeting at a Baton Rouge hotel in which the electricity went off. People gathered outside in the dark to learn the sampling results.

Among those present at the meeting were Karen Gautreaux, Assistant Secretary of DEQ, and St. Bernard Parish Councilman Craig Taffaro.

The meeting began with a request for a show of hands from people who had received information about the environment from DEQ or EPA. Not a single hand was raised. 'We are paying our taxes,' said Ms. Lewis. 'It is time for these agencies to do their job'.
The full soil sample report and additional documents helping to interpret it ("ENVIRONMENTAL SAMPLING RESULTS OF SEDIMENT/SLUDGE DEPOSITED BY HURRICANE KATRINA ON THE RESIDENTIAL AREAS OF CHALMETTE/MERAUX") can be found via the link above.

American Diaspora

ePodunk has a neat map that shows where Katrina survivors went just before and after the storm:

Hurricane Katrina blew down or flooded the homes of about 3.2 million people along the central Gulf Coast, including 1.3 million in metropolitan New Orleans and 250,000 in Gulfport and Biloxi. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for New Orleans, and authorities scrambled to provide emergency shelter for about 500,000 Americans. Perhaps an equal or greater number were staying with relatives or friends. Katrina caused the biggest mass migration in U.S. history, surpassing the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River. In terms of numbers permanently displaced, the only event that might have been bigger than Katrina is the Civil War.

Latosha and Keairria

Latosha and Keairria are two Katrina survivors who have ended up in LA. This blog, chronicles some everyday events in their lives after getting to California, including Keairria's return to school and Latosha's job search.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Council of State Historical Records Coordinators (COSHRC)

A cultural and spiritual erasure

Unnatural Disaster: Katrina and Governance:
At the moment, the neighborhoods flooded by the levee breaches resemble descriptions of cities after volcanic explosions. A gray or brown film appears to cover everything. The grass and trees are brown, creating the impression of a lifeless city animated only by memory. It is a sepia photograph you can walk through under a blue sky. Nearby, the mounds of debris are three stories high and rising.

The extensive flooding has caused something much more terrible than physical destruction. What has happened is a cultural and spiritual erasure. People have lost their photographs, wedding dresses, family heirlooms, furniture, books and clothes. The flood acted like an insane Grinch who stole every last vestige of Christmas: the “toys, tags, ribbons, boxes or bags.” Except this Grinch took the beds in which people slept, the food they ate and sometimes their life. Their neighborhoods are silent. [...]

Ten weeks after Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, things are not looking very well for the city of New Orleans. I have reasonable hopes for Tulane and the other academic institutions in the city. But the city as a whole, especially compared to the city as it used to be, faces a grim future. There is a massive housing shortage and an acute labor shortage. The repopulation of the city is going more slowly than expected. It is estimated that only 75,000 people currently live in the city. That is roughly the population of Lawrence, KS (where I grew up), usually described as a “small college town.” Another 75,000 commute in to work or fix their homes. A working population of 150,000 implies that 330,000 people have left. The likelihood of their return is unknown, although a poll of Houston evacuees done by the Washington Post/Kaiser Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health found that 44 percent wanted to relocate. If anything close to this percentage is true of all evacuees, then many New Orleans neighborhoods will never again come to life.
Tulane University law school professor Stephen Griffin, writing at "Balkinization." You can see many of his other essays there via this Google link; all are about policy and governance issues raised by the Katrina disaster.

Katie Neason;

Katie Neason:
So when I called everybody else started receiving checks, the same time I had applied, they had applied. And they started receiving checks and I didn’t get mine, so I waited a couple days and I waited and waited and finally I said no something is wrong. And I got on the phone and called. And that’s when they told me the check had been mailed out on the 9th and that’s when I found out they sent it to New Orleans. And they told me there was nothing they could do about that. At that time I was not told that it would take any amount of time or that I could stop payment on the check. So I kept calling and calling. I gave them the correct address where at that time I was still at the hotel, gave them that address. And nothing came. I called the hotel everyday, up until the time they started to mail back, because people had moved out. Went over a couple times and had people checking on it. And nothing. I would call them and still the check had not gone back to FEMA. And to this day the check has not returned to FEMA. I don’t know where it is.
This interview was conducted by Stephen Geer of the Center for American Progress. There are also interviews of Dorothy Stukes and Diana Hill, who have similar Kafkaesque tales from FEMAland. The stories are posted at The site has noted FEMA's recent announcement extending the deadline for claims to January 11, 2006.

Neason, Stukes, and Hill are also all members of the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association:
At its inception, the Survivors Association has over 1,600 members who have already been organizing locally for better relief and a just rebuilding process, and the right to return home, in Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas, Little Rock, New York City, Los Angeles, New Jersey and elsewhere. We plan to reach a total of 100,000 members in the next year. The ACORN Katrina Survivors Association will use public pressure, direct action, and dialogue with elected officials and public policy experts to win respect and a voice for survivors, the resources needed for families to survive, and a rebuilding plan that builds stronger communities for all.