Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rising Tide conference and blog

Rising Tide Blog explains its origins:
The Rising Tide Conference will be a gathering for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist New Orleans' recovery from the aftermath of the natural disasters of both Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the manmade disaster of the levee and floodwall collapses, and the incompetence of government on all levels.
The conference ran from August 25 to 27. From the one of the first posts after the conference, "Look what washed up":
Well the conference is over, and the Rising Tide Blog begins its roll. (Hey Po' Blog, want to join the party? You seemed into the idea.) Being a gathering of bloggers we even have some lovely detailed notes and quotes provided by both Maitri (the loud indian girl) and Scout Prime (one of our favorite adopted NOLABloggers. So as of this evening here are links to the posts made about the first Rising Tide: Matri -Liveblogging and retrospective presented with her legendary attention to detail. If you want the rundown on what you missed look here...
The blog relies a lot on wireless message posts, an interesting wrinkle, I think. Via "da po' boy", who distinguishes between two kinds of so-called "carpetblogging":
Carpetblogging should be defined as more than just “outsiders” blogging about a community. When we step out of our areas of expertise to comment on something that we feel is important, we all become outsiders to some degree. For example, I write about levees but I am no engineer. That doesn’t mean that my opinion should be instantly written off.

I think of carpetblogging as blogging from an outside perspective that shuts out local voices or hijacks the vehicles for local voices to be heard.

Louisiana Diary, by riggsveda

This is a "home page" post for riggsveda's "Louisiana Diary" entries -- a single point of reference for other people to link to, if they like, and for readers to return to if they'd like to read the diary in sequence or skip to a particular entry. This post will be updated as new diary entries are added. The blurbs below are by no means a full description of each post, just a thumbnail phrase to jog the memory.
The entries are about riggsveda's work as a Red Cross volunteer in Louisiana, and were posted between 8/29/06 and 10/26/06.

EDIT, 9/14: post times summarized, blurbs added, subject to riggsveda's approval.

Louisiana Diary Part III

October 11, 2005

7:45 a.m.---My first day on the job. Assigned to an ERV with L.B., driver. None of the folks I came down here with will be on the truck. Hope I do well, We’re going to Fat City, someplace in or near Metarie. No one can tell me much about it.
Woke up at 5:00 a.m., got into the bathroom and cleaned up before the rush. Slept okay---probably not as well as the night before last, but only because I was so dead tired back then.

7:30 p.m.---Back from the shower, clean, and amazingly, ready to pass out. The showers have only cold water, and it was my first time in them. Before that, we got back to the shelter about 6:15 and I had a hot meal, the first in 2 days. No, not true; I ate at 2:00 this afternoon as well.
We went out with our driver L., a very sweet young woman, and the routine runs like this:
Assignments are posted on the wall in the morning telling everyone which ERV they will be on and with which driver (usually 3-4 workers are assigned to a driver, but the crews and drivers are reshuffled to different trucks everyday.). You sign out for the day and head out to the parking lot to do a run-through of the ERV checklist: lights, gas, etc., and check the inside for what supplies you’ll need when you get to the yard.

NOLA 013

You drive to the kitchen, the big outdoor kitchen run by the local 1st Baptist big motherfucking megachurch. They are very kind and cheerful. You pick up your supplies there in the yard, which include bread and fruit and snacks and water, then get the cambros, which are massive plastic heatproof coolers into which big bags of prepared food are poured. You haul all this stuff into the back of the truck and pack it in, in the most logistically-sound way, strap down the cambros, and you’re off. Sometimes you get MREs to supplement the food, but most of those go on the box trucks, which are driven around to specific sites where they and cases of water are handed out. You usually do 2 runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and take 300 meals out on each run.
Today we served fruit cocktail and beef stew in the first run (about 10 a.m.-12 p.m.), and chicken tenders & patties, green beans, and chocolate-acrylic pudding material in the second (around 3 p.m.-5 p.m.). After each run we take the ERV to the dumpsters across from the church and get rid of the garbage, then drive to the kitchen and unload the cambros, then either pick up more, or clean the utensils and head home, where we scrub down the inside of the ERV and get it ready for the next day. All day while inside the ERV you are cleaning cleaning cleaning up constantly, as food service is a messy business, especially in a moving vehicle, and constantly making bags of fruit and snacks to give out at the back of the truck, or filling foam clamshells with hot food to give out at the side window. You may do a stationary feeding, where you sit in one place till you run out of food, or you may do a mobile feeding, moving slowly through a neighborhood watching for anyone in need while the driver calls people out over the loudspeaker. The work is hot, heavy, and hard, and you are on your feet almost non-stop from the moment you enter the truck till you get back to the shelter.
This morning I helped R. bag oranges, apples, & bottles of water to pass out to the people who came for the meals. Then, when we had all the fruit bagged, I helped plate food into clamshells with L. and LD. R.’s wife N. served the food from the window of the ERV. It was much the same in the afternoon, except R. handled the fruit and water himself while I stayed in the truck plating food.

NOLA 034

I helped load and unload, get rid of garbage, and set up and tear down. At the end of the day on our way back, we had to stop at a car wash and clean the truck. Usually the crew washes down the inside when they get back to the shelter, but it was mostly done when we arrived because while L. and I worked on the outside at the car wash, R., N. and LD. had done all but the floor inside.
Now I’m getting more tired by the minute. I’ll be sore tomorrow, and I have numerous bruises.
The exciting thing is that we (meaning not me, but a few experienced members of our shelter and one ERV) went into the 9th Ward of Orleans Parish for the first time today, with the long-awaited permission of the city. They hope that we will all be in there by the end of the week. We are tremendously excited. The 9th Ward is the very worst, ground zero of the destruction. People who’ve seen it say you’ll never forget it. We are needed desperately. They sent a team in today with double supplies and 3 mental health people. I imagine we’ll hear all about it at the briefing tomorrow. The managers hold a briefing meeting every morning prior to the day’s work, right after the assignments are posted. Managers are supposed to be riding through the neighborhoods determining where the need is, and in consultation with the drivers and ERV workers, make the decisions where to send us, how many runs to schedule, and how many meals we should take.
What was Fat City like? Like so much of the rest of the area, great swaths of destruction side by side with seemingly untouched buildings. A poor area, with titty bars on all sides (at least where we were), but some nice-looking restaurants, too. Not a place you’d like to be alone in, day or night. We pulled into an abandoned corner gas station, and people were already waiting for food before we were even set up. Some came by and sat in their cars just looking at us, waiting for curb service. We just looked back. Many were workers; the area is filled with restoration companies, insurance adjusters, “hurricane relief teams”, and others. Lots of Latinos, including migrants. Luckily, R. and N. are Puerto Rican and speak fluent Spanish, which came in very handy.
Signs pop up like mushrooms all along the highways and at intersections, advertising jobs, cleaning and restorations services, loans, or simply the fact that businesses that were here before the hurricane are back and re-opened again.


Places that look fine turn out to be closed or moved. Places that look devastated are putting handmade signs in the windows or on the streets that say “open”. Sometimes there’s no sense to it.

Everywhere they sell “Drive-Through Daiquiris”.

I was hoping I would lose weight from the work, but I eat like a horse.

Too tired to go on. Maybe I’ll turn in early.

Louisiana Diary: previous, next, home

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Louisian Diary, Part II

October 10, 2005

8:05 a.m., Columbus Day, Staging Area---Dropped like a stone last night around 7:30 p.m. Somebody passing my cot said I looked like a dead woman. The shelter was in a church, set up for both volunteers and the displaced. The community room and meeting had been divided into 3 large sections: male, female, and co-ed. The women’s section had one tiny narrow window and was so dark I could hardly find my way around. I opted for the well-lit co-ed section, where there was food and a big-screen TV. Restrooms were very decent. Never did use the Hazmat shower, which everyone complained was too cold. Got a ride back to headquarters at 7:00 a.m. It’s now 8:15 and I’m still useless. I did get an official apron. I’m nervous about driving the box trucks—24 feet long. Maneuvering is an issue, and they’re diesel. Leave them running. Let them warm up a bit before turning them on. Told my assigner at Feeding I’d never driven anything that big. He didn’t seem concerned.
Now they’re saying lots of folks are needed again at Kenner. I get the feeling this may be a real horror show. More scary stories about it from others today.

NOLA 005

10:45 a.m.---En Route to Kenner by way of Belle Chasse with a vanful of partners. S. and J. are the other women. R., J., S., JM., and A are the 5 men. They’ve been together since Montgomery, staying in hotels for 3 days, and have bonded very closely. Now I’m with them.
Our driver is a Latino from the Midwest who worked for Wal-Mart, and who asked them to transfer him down here so he could volunteer to help. They did, and now he works all day for them, and on his days off and after work he drives the van and does other odd jobs for ARC. And this is the kind of guy they underpay and force onto the Medicaid rolls.
R. says we’re supposed to drive food to the folks in the field. Supposed to be primitive conditions. He says this with relish.

NOLA 048

1:30 p.m.---Drove past Kenner (Jefferson Parish) into New Orleans past the Superdome, on the very highway where they turned back the hurricane victims to keep them from “infecting” Gretna.

NOLA 050

Too much mess to describe right now.

NOLA 039

Came into Belle Chasse, stopped for lunch at Subway (one of the few places available to get food), arrived at the Best Western 10 blocks away from more “in-processing”. Waiting now for a ride back to Kenner. I’m getting to a point where I’m ready to give up trying to control anything---just send me somewhere and put me to work.

6:55 p.m., Susan Park Gymnasium---Kenner at last. This is the dream job. M., the shelter head-something, says it is the elite shelter. We will be doing ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) work, delivering hot meals, water, and snacks to people, loading and unloading the trucks, and learning to drive them. They hope to be able to get into NOLA sometime, somehow, because currently the authorities refuse to let us cross into the parrish to deliver food.
Went through NOLA twice. Even though it’s bad here and everywhere we went, it’s nothing compared to the mess on the other side of the 17th St. levee, where we’ve been told the toxicity of the sludge combined with the rampant dead bodies of animals (and possibly still people) makes it dangerous to go near.
NOLA 057
The atmosphere in the shelter, which is only for volunteers, is amazingly collegial, moreso than any place I’ve been so far. We eat mostly snack foods because the daily meals are from what goes out in the ERVs. Not a lot of micromanaging here. Cold showers in the shower truck. Pretty laissez-faire with the maintenance. Supposed to be over 80 of us here, but so far the number showing up has been sparse. Co-ed like Our Lady. My cot is much higher than yesterday, and it’s easier to get out of bed. Did I mention it’s inside a gymnasium? So if we want to get up a baseball game in the field beside us, it’s no problem. But watch out for the fire ants.
I helped feed some folks today on a brief run with M. to let the newbies see how it’s done. Just handed out MREs and water, but it felt really good. Just like this assignment.

NOLA 061

Louisiana Diary: previous, next, home

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NYT on Katrina One Year Later

You don't get more traditional reporting than the reporting done by the NYT and our mandate here is to explore non-traditional Katrina reporting, but this NYT Katrina site is something to behold. The photo essays alone are worth the time to wander around it.

NY Inquirer draws on "Recording Katrina"

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

All of us at "Recording Katrina" are pleased to have drawn the notice of the New York Inquirer ("The first all-online alternative weekly"; "We don't break news -- we put news back together") where Andrew Bast and his team have assembled a feature one-year retrospective on the disaster: "Katrina: One year later, shameless silence." It's a perfect fit between two non-traditional news gathering teams -- Bast complimented "Recording Katrina" as a great resource as he researched the series, and the Inquirer will run one of riggsveda's accounts on Thursday. We thank him in advance for including riggsveda's story and mentioning our group blog, and invite everyone to have a look at the Inquirer series.

Some background, at least as I see it: this blog was fellow "RK" blogger eRobin's ("fact-esque") idea. She and I were outraged by what we were seeing in the news in the first weeks after the hurricane hit, the levees broke, and the Bush administration proved so incompetent and venal at everything (again).

We were also moved by the raw, first-person accounts we were finding around the Internet which we had started to mention in posts on our blogs, and we decided to collect links and excerpts in one place. Soon after, we were joined by riggsveda ("it's my country, too") and thatfarmgirl, who have posted first-person accounts about what they saw and learned as volunteers. Now riggsveda is adding new entries from her time in Louisiana in October, 2005.

Over time we've also included other "nontraditional" takes on Katrina, including everything from activist organization press releases, and key official documents and reports, to satellite photographs, innovative or freelance journalism, and more. When a post isn't a narrative by one of us, I think we've succeeded in keeping our own commentary to a minimum and letting the accounts and documents we've found speak for themselves. We haven't been all that different from everyone else in moving on to other topics as well, but maintaining this site has challenged us to keep paying attention to the story and continue recording what we found.

Personally, the main way I'd like to see "Recording Katrina" improve is to get some Gulf Coast residents and/or Katrina survivors to join us. If you're interested, leave a comment here or e-mail one of us, and we'll let you know.

CROSSPOSTED in revised form at "newsrack." NOTE: banner by permission of the New York Inquirer.
UPDATE, 8/31: "My Darlin' New Orleans" at the NY Inquirer.

Arabi Wrecking Krewe

"Working to bring home the musicians." About Us:
In New Orleans parlance a krewe is a group of people who get together and put on a Mardi Gras parade. This is not an easy undertaking because there are innumerable logistical details to work out: a theme must be decided on, floats need to be designed and paid for, costumes have to be prepared. The Arabi Wrecking Krewe faces an even more daunting task bringing back the music, which means the musicians, because music here is a living, breathing thing, like those stately live oaks that still stand to line the boulevards.

Anyone who knows this city knows it is nothing without its soundtrack. We live, love, eat and even die to a rhythm that is uniquely ours, but that we gladly share with the world. In New Orleans our thoughts soar with the trumpets, our bodies sway with the saxophones, our feet tap to the drums, our hands move over imaginary ivories, and our voices join together for song. You can rebuild the levees, restore the power, bring back the barrier islands, but if the music doesn’t return, my New Orleans, your New Orleans, our New Orleans, will be gone forever.

The Arabi Wrecking Krewe has wrestled rotten refrigerators, pounded sodden sheet rock, bailed out flooded music rooms and sorted debris to find mementos of a past which some say can never be revived. Whatever your talents may be, we can use you, as an administrator, a carpenter, a fundraiser, a counselor or a friend.

So help us bring the musicians and the music back, and remember it is not just for those of us who call New Orleans home, because music knows no boundaries.
Wish list.

People Get Ready: New Orleans, 1 A.K.

From today's post, "New Orleans, 1 A.K.," on a blog by "Schroeder" called People Get Ready ([make levees, not war]):
The alarm on the cell phone I never had before Hurricane Katrina went off this morning at 5:15. There are so many things that are going through my head today, I don't even know where to go with this. Every time I touch that phone, I'm reminded that it's an artifact of Hurricane Katrina -- of the need to communicate with people in new ways from the diaspora. A lot of us carry around Katrina phones, but that's a petty observation.

So many things were different then. I was married and had a house note. Today, I'm divorced and I'm a renter again. [...]
Schroeder's blog comes with a long, long blogroll of Katrina blogs and forums, GIS and maps, photos, activist groups, and more. It's a superb go-to resource for anyone following Katrina's aftermath. More from the "1 A.K." post:
Today, writing this post from C.C.'s on Magazine Street, I'm grateful for many things. I'm grateful that I have a job. I'm grateful for new friends -- many of whom are local bloggers. I'm grateful that hundreds of people are pouring into the coffee shop talking about mundane things. Many more like me are reflective. But this is still not the norm.

The norm for most New Orleanians -- for well over 200,000 of us -- is what Ms. Regina is going through. [...]

(very nice photo of her)

Ms. Regina and Ms. Sandra drove down from Michigan, where they've been displaced for the past year, to deal with their mother's house. No one had stepped into the house since it was flooded to the roof last year. Neither Ms. Regina nor Ms. Sandra had driven such a distance before, and they had to rent a car to do it. They were forced to make the trip because the City Council voted to require all property owners to gut their houses within a year of Hurricane Katrina, and to make the property look decent, or the city would condemn the lot and confiscate the property. Both are in their 60's. Their mother is in her 80's. And they're still thinking about rebuilding the house. What else could they do? This is their home. This is their neighborhood. All of their family and friends have lived in the same neighborhood for years -- for generations. [...]

So much more is needed -- still. Groups like the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, which helped Ms. Regina and Ms. Sandra, continue trying to help residents put their lives back together in what may very well go down in history as the most incompetent recovery in the history of the United States. [...]

Ms. Regina called yesterday from City Hall, frustrated with the red tape that forced her to drive down to New Orleans, and asked if I knew anyone who could clear the vegetation growing around the house. She was in a hurry to get out of New Orleans, but was getting quotes from lawn services in the hundreds of dollars. I told her not to worry about it -- that if I had to do it myself, I would take care of it. She started sobbing.
riggsveda, the next part is for you:
It's vitally important to recognize the contributions of the thousands of volunteers who have donated resources and volunteered to come down here to help people salvage their lives.

Thank you. You are the most important part of this recovery, not just for what you do to physically rehabilitate the city, but for the quiet inspiration that your efforts represent to people who are losing hope.
And this is for the rest of us:
There's so much more to do. Please, if you read this, commit yourself to visiting New Orleans in the next year to do volunteer work, and be a part of the rebuilding of lives that are the heart and soul of this unique city.
Via "The Katrinacrat", a story in its own right.

Loiusiana Diary, Part I

Fuck you, George Bush.

Welcome to America.
In A French Quarter Courtyard
The following is a diary (including a few blog posts) related to my stint as a volunteer that I kept after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I spent a mere 3 weeks in NOLA, working for the Red Cross as one of the first people to enter the city limits in an ERV to feed the neighborhoods. I entered the Lower Ninth Ward on the 2nd day that the Red Cross was allowed to go into the city limits. In honor of the anniversary, I 'll be posting it over the next few weeks.

Friday, September 30, 2005
I Wish I Was In New Orleans

Yesterday I spent all day in an expedited training in preparation to go south to do disaster assistance work with the Red Cross in the hurricane areas. The standard Disaster Assistance training takes days, and normally volunteers require some local experience responding to disaster incidents, before they can be sent off to a national disaster site. But as the trainers told us, this is the worst natural disaster to have ever hit the U.S., stretching over more than 90,000 square miles, and many of the olf protocols and practices have been streamlined in order to get aid to the survivors as quickly as possible.

I still have to get my doctor to sign off on a health status form to assure them I won't keel over dead while I'm down there. We will probably deploy within 2 weeks, but likely much sooner, to either Baton Rouge, Biloxi, or Jackson (not certain about Texas). I don't know where I will be going once I get to the staging area I'll be assigned, nor what I will be doing exactly. I asked to do bulk distribution, that is, travelling around the damaged areas in an ERV to deliver meals and/or supplies and check on the survivors' needs (my first choice), or I may do feeding, sheltering, or casework. They told us we could request specialties, but need to be flexible, as we will probably do a little of everything as needed, and will be put wherever they need us.

Regardless of what happens, I doubt I will have access to a computer, or that I will have the time to post anything if I do. People who were there during the worst of it spoke at the training session to tell us what they experienced, and as has come out the last few days, the reports of dangers and shootings and criminal behavior were very much overblown. But they worked 20 hour shifts, and slept in sleeping bags on the shelter floors, and the temps were 95 degrees with 80% humidity and bugs from hell, and people are traumatized and angry and in need of much patience and understanding. The weather and the bugs, they told us, will probably be the same till mid to late October. We may stay in hotels--there is more of that now--and electricity and water are available more widely, or we may be put in shelters. The shifts will probably be closer to 8 to 12 hours than 20. It's much better now than it was a few weeks ago. Traveling down will require going light, so I'll pretend I'm going backpacking. Toilet paper, insect repellent, sunscreen, and every expectation of living in dirty clothes for much of the time...sounds like the woods to me, except that I will have my cell phone with me at all times, as they recommended.

Don't think that just because a few weeks have passed that things are almost wrapped up. On hearing about me going down, some have said, "Oh, I thought they stopped sending people down there." They haven't, obviously. They need volunteers badly. The Red Cross chapter I will be part of, Southeastern PA or SEPA, is the 2nd largest in the country, and they have only gotten 90 people down there since Katrina hit, for 2-3 week stints. That's just 2 waves of volunteers. They expect to need people at this level through December, and the holiday season may be a time of even greater need. In Philly alone they have been working with over 700 families displaced by the storms, and over 600 of those came up here on their own without government or NGO aid. Just this morning the NYTimes reported that FEMA has only been able to house 109 families from Louisiana, which means hundreds of thousands remain homeless and in shelters and hotels.

Anyway, that's the situation so far. I have my employers to thank for allowing me to take this time off when it comes, and for paying me for it while I'm gone; otherwise I would never be able to afford to do it. It's a gift that's been offered to me, so I want to make it a gift to the people of the hurricane. I know many, possibly most people, are unable to afford the time away from work or their families, and this kind of work is not for everyone. But if you can possibly do it, if you are physically and emotionally and financially able to do it, please consider volunteering. The need is desperate.
More updates as the time gets closer.

Thursday, October 06, 2005
Good Night And Good Luck
If you read my previous post on the subject, you know I signed up to do Red Cross disaster assistance for the hurricane survivors. Well, today I got the call, and at the ungodly hour of 5:40 a.m. on Sunday morning I'll be leaving Philly for Baton Rouge. That's the staging area I'm being sent to, and the place whose hurricane damage Bill Clinton, upon his visit there Tuesday, called "astonishing." I heard him talking about it on the radio, and in a few brief minutes he spoke more sense about the disaster and its ramifications for the region and the country than I have ever heard come out of George Bush's mouth in 5 endless years of stumping and photo ops.

Anyway, I'll be away for 3 weeks, so this my temporary sign-off till I get back in November. Lately I've missed a lot of great opportunities to write loud and bitter polemicals against the increasing stupidities of the age, and now it's too late. And I'll miss being here for my favorite month of the year, and my traditional October reading of stories of the supernatural on my daily commute. I'll miss my family, and my home, and my pets, and all the old familiar things that I usually bitch so much about. And it's kind of scary, not knowing what lies ahead, or what people will think of me when I get there.

Then I think that the people who suffered through the storms are also missing many of those same things, and the difference is that I'll get to come back to my life and my precious things pretty much the way I left them, whereas those folks will never be able to. And the people who have been uprooted and forced to disperse to strange places where they have no friends or family are also scared, and the stakes in not knowing what to expect are so much higher for them.

So I think I'll just shut up now, and wrap this up. Wish me bonne chance, and that I can make myself useful.

The Diary

Sunday, October 9, 2005---Philly to Atlanta

6:05 a.m.---Left home at 4:00 a.m. K. drove me to the airport. Missing everything. Yesterday felt like a condemned woman, trying to enjoy what she could for the last time. I hate to leave him alone for so long. Never been away from him this long in 30 years.
Flight was scheduled to leave @ 5:40 a.m. Even so, the number of people waiting to check in was horrendous, and they all had weeks’ worth of baggage. Luckily the Delta employee announced all those with “E” tickets could move over to the kiosk check-in, which was much sparser. However, the fancy computer self-service was not finding me, and it turned out the system had me as “R.”, and my driver’s license read as “R. X.”. Once that was cleared up I proceeded to the security check (take off your jacket, leave your shoes on), then on to the gate.
Last called, seat assignment at the last minute, and they overbooked. I feared the worst, but instead got a 1st class seat on the aisle (2C). Luxury! The flight to Baton Rouge, though, looks like steerage. At least it’s short.

9:45 a.m.---About ½ hour delay due to traffic on the runway. Lots of sleepy people on this flight. From the conversations overheard here and in the airport, many may be with the Red Cross or similar agencies. Other people seem to be flying home, or off to visit friends or family.
The clouds never fail to amaze me, no, enchant me, when I fly. Looking out on their endless banks you can forget what they are. They look so solid—sometimes like stretches of Antarctic ice and sea, broken by small icebergs. Or dark, hulking mountains on a horizon of lakes and hills. They are always remarkable.
K. prevailed on me to wear my anorak before leaving since it was cool and rainy, and all I could think of was how hot it would be in LA. But the trip has been chilly---the airports, the planes---and I’m glad to have it. I called him from Atlanta just to say high.
I’m so sleepy. I feel like I’ve been sedated.

12:15 a.m.---Staging area, Baton Rouge, at the old (read “ex-“) Wal-Mart. They put me in “Feeding” and sent me off to get my photo ID. I have to participate in the orientation before I can be assigned anywhere. I kept saying to the woman who processed me, I wanted to do Bulk Distribution. She said “They need you in Feeding.” So off I went. When I went to talk to the supervisor of that section, she said they could use people who could drive, and could I drive a box truck? Well, I said, yes, though I’ve never driven one in my life. But she didn’t say “Did you ever drive a box truck?” Only whether I could. Well, I’ll give it a try. It’s what I get for insisting on trying to have it my own way when I should have said “Put me where you need me.”
Walking around the place. It’s set up like some kind of cheesy health fair, but the breadth & depth of the services is amazing, for both infrastructuring and staff support. All our luggage is living under a couple tents inside a fenced area that looks to be where Wal-Mart once had its garden center.
I wander like a lost soul. Won’t know where I’m going until after orientation, and maybe not even then if I don’t get picked. Means staying in a shelter here overnight.

1:30 p.m.---Had a very nice BBQ chicken lunch thanks to the efforts of the local union (Electricians/AFL-CIO). Found out I’m going with 5 others to Kenner, just outside of New Orleans. From one staffer I heard it was bad: depressing, hard times for the folks there. On the other hand, other staffers said it was great: a hot shower truck, great food, next door to the police, near the NOLA airport.
This is the closest I’m going to get to being right inside the city. I’m pleased.
7:30 p.m.---Our Lady of Mercy Shelter, Baton Rouge. Since I had to complete orientation before leaving, and they couldn’t wait for me, they sent off a vanful of folks to Kenner without me. I got sent here to spend the night, and have to return tomorrow by 8:00 a.m. to the staging area (Headquarters) for a new assignment. They need to send people to Covington, directly opposite NOLA on Lake Ponchartrain, and as of 3:20 today, that looked the most likely. But who knows?
I had dinner with two older women this evening, both case managers, S., originally from Wales, and C., who told me she spent much of her time in Lafayette and at the Cajundome in a smaller version of the Superdome/Astrodome paradigm. They had her running a 70 mile circuit every day in a rental car, starting at 6:00 a.m. when she got up in her little motel room and set out, ending at the Cajundome to do 3 hour meetings with Family Services people. Got back about 10 p.m. Exhausting. She had the day off yesterday (we’re supposed to get 1 day off every 7 days), and spent it traveling around Lake Charles. She said the devastation was endless—for miles and miles, as far as they could travel, trees flattened or twisted into impossible shapes, building simply vanished!
A woman is just now saying she’s working at the River Center. Others saying I thought they were closing that. She saying no one told me. They’re down to 6000+ residents from over 11,000.
The food down here is all sugar and salt and fat. C., S. and I went to a place called Piccadilly’s a jumped-up cafeteria with pretensions to a clubbiness hopelessly destroyed by bad paintings and absurd Jetsonesque chandeliers.

Louisiana Diary: next, home

Monday, August 28, 2006

NOVA: Storm That Drowned a City

The PBS science documentary series "NOVA" has released "Storm That Drowned a City"; the program can be viewed online, and the web site features, among other things:...among others. From the transcript of the October 29, 2004 interview with Mr. van Heerden:
NOVA: If this region—New Orleans, the wetlands, and all—were a patient in the hospital, how would you describe them? At what stage are they?
VAN HEERDEN: Close to death.
NOVA: Really? Don't hold back.
VAN HEERDEN: (laughter) Thank you. Louisiana is a terminally ill patient requiring major surgery, a patient that if it was given a new heart and new lungs and a new liver would live. If it isn't, it's going to die. That's the equivalent. [...]

NOVA: Walk me through the worst-case scenario—if a hurricane hits New Orleans.
VAN HEERDEN: If we look at the case of a slow-moving Category 3 passing west of the city, the floodwaters push into Lake Pontchartrain, and then they push through some highly industrialized areas. As they pass through these areas, they pick up a lot of chemicals. Remember, the flooding is occurring at the same time as a lot of wind damage, a lot of things breaking and coming apart. So these highly contaminated waters then flow into the city.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

TPM Reader DK: Getting out in time

Talking Points Memo pinch-blogger "TPM Reader DK":

Those who were prudent and cautious by nature had started paying attention to the storm--really paying attention--earlier in the day. They had evacuated once already that summer, for Dennis, and the year before for Ivan, both of which hit the Florida panhandle. The Mississippi and Louisiana coasts were largely spared by those two earlier storms, and many residents there were perhaps reluctant to pack up again. The only thing more tedious than evacuating for a hurricane is evacuating for a hurricane that ends up striking somewhere else.

But if you had ever experienced the traffic jams during a hurricane evacuation, especially leaving the cities along the Gulf Coast, then you knew that you better get out while the getting was good. And Friday night, the getting was still good.

Traffic was a little heavier than usual, but drive times were about normal. Gas was available. Weather conditions were good. If you wanted to avoid the chaos that the weekend might bring, you went home from work, packed the car, and headed out before dark. If you had the means to do so. If you had someplace to go.

Friday, August 25, 2006

pico: Coming home (Katrina Blog Project)

From the diary entry Coming home - Katrina Blog Project, w/pics by pico, at the DailyKos "Katrina Blog Project." From the November, 2005 part of the entry:
I hesitate to use the expression "like a war zone," because I've never been in a war zone, and I don't want to devalue the gravity of that. But here the destruction just sinks into your head in ways I can't explain - it's the pervasiveness of it that's worse than the magnitude. On the lawn next door, I looked inside an abandoned vehicle full of dirt, water, papers, and a teddy bear. The little things of everyday life are scattered everywhere, mutilated. Not a single house isn't covered with people's private lives, but the mix is so heavy and widespread you can't even associate the objects you see with the houses they're near. [...]

S. is another high school friend of mine whose fortunes have been up and down since graduation. He started working at a funeral home a few years ago as a sales representative, mostly selling flowers and coffins. Now, thanks to an increased demand and slimmer workforce, he's been put on the line dressing corpses. Recently he got the corpse of someone he knew:
Hey, do you guys remember so-and-so? He committed suicide; I had to dress his body the other day. He was 30 years old. Apparently he stayed behind and survived the storm, and he got pulled into working with rescue teams. After a week, they found him face down in his trailer with a bottle of antifreeze.
So, like I said, the suicide rate is up with a vengeance. Stories especially of police officers who've taken their own lives are rampant. [...]

We ran into the rest of our family down the road in Violet, at our aunt's house. Here, among the other sites, there was a fridge in a tree, and at this point, you had to laugh. My grandmother was visibly exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and for the first time, she started railing on the politicians. My gradmother is not the type to get angry. "The government abandoned us," she said, between clenched teeth. The people of St. Bernard are getting more and more worried with each day: no one knows what's going to happen, if everything has to be destroyed, if anyone can ever move back, what kind of timeline there will be... nothing.

While my mom, dad, and my cousin went into the aunt's house, we sat outside in the heat, which is getting unbearable: the sludge is drying into a hard, cracked clay that covers everything - grass, sidewalks, roads, houses - with a creepy grayish color. They asked if we'd driven through Lexington; they had just passed through, as well. In a lowered voice: "Did you see the house with the 7 on it?" We hadn't. That comment ended the conversation, and everyone stared at the ground.

From the December, 2005 part:

My cousin started telling us about his experiences during the hurricane, some of which I knew, some of which I never heard until then. He stayed in his house during most of the hurricane, only coming outside during the eye. He and his neighbors who stayed were scanning the damage from the first half of the storm, when one of them noticed something odd.

"Those boats shouldn't be so close to the highway." By boats, he meant he could see masts just on the other side of the highway, miles away from water.

As soon as the words left his mouth, the wall of water came rushing around the highway bend. They scattered, some to their cars, some to their homes. My cousin ran inside to grab his dog and cellphone, but before he could grab anything else, the water had already forced its way in through his front door, and was rising fast. He took the best option and ran (waded/swam) outside to his boat.

He spent the rest of the storm huddled at the bottom of his boat while hurricane winds battered the hell out of everything around him. He told us he bawled like a baby.

After the storm, he tried to get his boat of the canal. It was clogged with so much debris - roofs of houses, trees, vehicles - "you could almost walk across it." He took his boat around, looking for survivors. Until the water started going down, he was deputized 5 times ("Until then, I didn't even know what the word 'deputized' meant.") and sent all over the Parish picking up whomever he could.

Many of the people were taken to shelters, of which there were few, overcrowded, and badly stocked (if at all). They broke into a doctor's office to get the last remaining tetanus shots. Many people were kept in the gymnasium of a local high school - but the water had risen too high for the entrance, so people had to lie down in small boats while they passed under the front door.

The stories kept coming. He found an abandoned truck, with a dead dog still in the dog cage hooked into the bed. The drivers? "Probably lying around there somewhere, in the woods. No one would leave their dog like that. Most likely, they got in their truck and thought they could outrun the water. They couldn't." They weren't the only ones who tried it, either. "Some people were smart. Instead of trying to outrun it, they turned left and drove straight onto the levee, 'cause it was much higher. The rest?..." He shook his head sadly. [...]

"Where were our people? The Canadian ships, they were there in two, three days. I didn't see any of our ships? Why couldn't our people get down there?"

Go there for the rest, and lots of photographs. Via eRobin's 8/22/06 entry "Katrina Blog Project at Daily Kos"; there are more links to other Katrina-related diaries there.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch: "One Year after Katrina"

From the announcement:

Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch has published "One Year after Katrina" (pdf), a 96-page report that reveals the state of Gulf Coast rebuilding on the anniversary of the storm. Through statistics, status reports, in-depth investigations, and profiles of community leaders, "One Year After Katrina highlights the challenges ahead for a just and sustainable renewal.

The report analyzes over 250 indicators and reports on 13 major issue areas, including Demographics, Housing, Economy, Schools, Healthcare, Arts and Hurricane Readiness. The report also lists an index of some of the organizations working on Gulf Coast issues.

From the introduction to the report (.pdf file):
A year after Katrina, how much progress has New Orleans and the Gulf Coast made?
To answer this question, the Institute analyzed over 200 indicators in 13 categories. We have also conducted status reports on key Gulf issues, launched in-depth investigations into the region’s economic power brokers and interviewed leading community activists in the Gulf region.

The conclusion is unavoidable and devastating: One year later, New Orleans and the Gulf region still face basic, fundamental barriers to renewal. Further, lack of federal leadership and misplaced priorities are preventing the region from achieving a vibrant future. For example:

Lack of HOUSING still keeps tens of thousands of Gulf residents from coming back home. Aid for homeowners in Louisiana and Mississippi was approved 10 months after the storms, and none has been disbursed. Little money has been earmarked for rebuilding rental units—none in Mississippi— and rents are skyrocketing. Eighty percent of public housing in New Orleans is still closed, despite minimal storm damage, and Mississippi residents learned that three coastal facilities will be shut down soon.

Problems continue to plague SCHOOLS in the region, making it difficult for many families to return. Only 57 of the 117 public schools in New Orleans before Katrina are scheduled to open in the 2006-2007 school year.

CONTRACTING SCANDALS and other special-interest dealings continue to plague the recovery. Institute analysis has found $136.7 million in corporate fraud in Katrina-related contracts, and government investigators have highlighted contracts worth $428.7 million that are troubling due to lack of oversight or misappropriation. Altogether, the Institute finds that corporate contracting abuse has cost taxpayers 50 times more than widely-publicized scandals involving individuals wrongfully collecting assistance.

Threats to the ENVIRONMENT are exposing residents to a wide range of toxins and making many think twice about returning to the region. Federal officials also have yet to commit the resources to restore coastal wetlands—the region’s best defense against future storms.

Katrina death toll revised down to 1,723

Robert Lindsay:
As the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina looms, the death toll from the Hurricane has taken a serious drop, as Louisiana has apparently weeded out many of the out of state deaths in a short post-Hurricane period as not related to the Hurricane. The death toll has dropped from 1,836 to 1,723, a drop of 113 deaths. [...]

...the official missing list for Louisiana has not been updated since February 2, and still contains the names of 2,371 people. That list seriously needs to be updated.
Lindsay provides links to other people following this story, including Seth Abramson, who doubts all the Mississippi Katrina-related deaths have been counted. The numbers Lindsay has, as of August 22, 2006:
Louisiana..: Mon., May. 16, 2006: 1,464
Mississippi: Tue., Jan. 24, 2006: ..238
Florida....: Mon., Jan. 9, 2006: ....14
Georgia....: Mon., Jan. 9, 2006: .....2
Alabama....: Mon., Jan. 9, 2006: .....2
Ohio.......: Wed., Aug. 31, 2005: ....2*
Kentucky...: Wed., Aug. 31, 2005: ....1*
Total......: ......................1723
Via Lindsay Beyerstein ("Majikthise").

* The Ohio and Kentucky deaths are somewhat indirectly related to Katrina, see Mr. Lindsay's post for details.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

HBO: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts:
As the world watched in horror, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Like many who watched the unfolding drama on television news, director Spike Lee was shocked not only by the scale of the disaster, but by the slow, inept and disorganized response of the emergency and recovery effort. Lee was moved to document this modern American tragedy, a morality play witnessed by people all around the world. The result is WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS. The film is structured in four acts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Katrina's catastrophic passage through New Orleans. All four acts will be seen Tuesday, Aug. 29 (8:00 p.m.-midnight), the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Read more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Darlin' New Orleans

Inside Cafe du Monde August 29th has become the accepted date representing the anniversary of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, as well as the rest of the Gulf Coast. The blogs, the press, the networks are alive with the rediscovery of the fact that hundreds of thousands, of the orginal estimated 1 million displaced, are still in limbo:
As of April, the last time such figures were compiled, there were still 750,000 displaced by Katrina and the two hurricanes that followed, Rita and Wilma, according to Bob Howard, communications director for the Washington-based Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Programme.
And of course, there are the apparently bottomless scandals and exposures of incompetence. Katrina was not just a New Orleans tragedy, but my personal experience was with NOLA. I sat in helpless horror in front of the television day after day, and read seemingly endless reports of the spiraling ante of deaths, horrors and bureaucratic ineptitude. My posting at that time here, on Corrente, and The American Street, was as much an attempt to make sense of the thing as it was to gather and transmit information, but the more I posted, the less sense it made. Clearly, what stands out most in my mind from that time was how George Bush played the fool for days while people died, then puffed out his chest and rejected international offers of aid, purely out of personal pride and vanity, until Condi slapped him around a little. We all know now how well he handled it on his own...just about as well as he handles everything else. (See Think Progess' excellent Katrina Timeline.)

It was my great good fortune to have an employer who gave its people a chance to volunteer our services to the Red Cross for disaster relief after it became apparent that this was not going to be any ordinary natural disaster (how much out of the ordinary wouldn't really come to light until many months afterward). In September we were notified that we would be released on civil leave to work up to 3 weeks on hurricane relief. I wrestled with the idea for a few days, then told my husband I wanted to go. He stared at me as if I was mad. A day or two later as we sat in the dark watching the images flicker past on the screen with tears rolling down our faces, he turned to me and said, "Go."

So I did.

The ensuing struggle to get enrolled as a volunteer that eventually led to my training and subsequent deployment took several weeks, but I was finally called up to serve, and took a flight out of Philadelphia on October 9, 2005. At the staging area in Baton Rouge I was in-processed and assigned to "Feeding", and the next day was sent to a volunteer shelter in Kenner, set up in a local gym, where for the next 3 weeks I served food from trucks to residents in the Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, and was one of the first Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle teams to enter New Orleans.

On August 29, and for as long as it takes thereafter, I'll be re-posting the Katrina posts I made in the run-up to my deployment, and the diary I kept (identities will be protected) while working in NOLA. I'll also intersperse it with photos I shot while there. It's not great literature, just a sometimes mundane chronology of what I experienced, but it may offer some additional piece in the puzzle that understanding Katrina has become.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chris Rose on NPR

NPR has a series called Porch Stories. New Orleans Times Picayune, Chris Rose, was part of it. He read from his book about Katrina, 1 Dead in Attic.

The site provides links to several other Chris Rose apperances on NPR.

Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

From the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank:
The Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University and the University of New Orleans organized this project in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History and other partners. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, it builds on prior work by CHNM to collect and preserve history online, especially through the ECHO project and the September 11 Digital Archive.
It's a very sophisticated site that catlogues stories and images from Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Katrina Blog Project at Daily Kos

Kossacks have put together a collection of Katrina diaries under the Technorati tag, "Katrina Blog Project." It's a fantastic accumulation of images, first-person accounts and observations of the destruction of the Gulf Coast. I recommend taking time to read through the entire collection but I'll highlight some of the diaries that caught my eye here:

Katrina - The Abandonment of New Orleans features photos from New Orleans in the aftermath of the failure of the levees.

In Katrina Then and Now: A Bush Photo Op, luckydog visits two of the homes that BushCo toured, when he finally made it down to where, on his watch, a major American city had drowned.

Some diarists are posting journals they kept around the time of the disaster and during the clean-up, or re-posting diaries they wrote closer to the event. Coming Home features journal entries and photos from November and December of 2005. Some diaries, like Lakeview and the Ninth Ward, August 3, 2006 feature current photos and writing.

It's hard to tell the difference.

There is at least one diary about Mississippi.

azureblue posted a detailed timeline of the disaster dating back to budget cuts in 2001.

Let Them Walk out of Here revives the Shepherd Smith/Geraldo Rivera FOX News video, in which Smith and Rivera come face to face with what Starving the Beast means in human terms and break down under the weight of it, while Sean Hannity struggles to put their rage "in perspective."

ACLU report on Orleans Parish Prison and Katrina

"Abandoned and Abused":
In a comprehensive report from our National Prison Project, the ACLU documents the terrible conditions and dangerous lack of planning at the Orleans Parish Prison during and after Hurricane Katrina.

This report focuses on the experience of thousands of individuals trapped in the prison during and after the storm, and recounts the nightmare many of them later faced at various receiving facilities around Louisiana.

The approaching anniversary of the storm creates an opportunity to reevaluate the systems that were in place leading up to Katrina and to assess whether those systems have since improved.
(Link added.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Why On This Night...?

The one and only Chuck Taggart links to Justin Lundgren, who proposes a ritual dinner for NOLA refugees:
How powerful would it be if every New Orleanian currently living in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and every other town across the country, sat down at the same time to recognize the losses of the last year and to reaffirm their connection to the city? And how great would it be if this ritual centered around the favorite activity of every homegrown New Orleanian, eating? The entire New Orleans diaspora could sit down simultaneously, fork in hand, to tell the world that this was a special place, a special community, one worth fighting to restore.
Amen. I was only a New Orleanian for a month, but my heart is still down there. In solidarity with the folks, I plan to do the same (and ironically, I'll be away from home, too.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

UN Human Rights Body Slams Louisiana Actions During Katrina

American Civil Liberties Union, 7/28/2006:
A United Nations human rights body today criticized Louisiana officials for their actions during Hurricane Katrina, including a police blockade on Gretna New Orleans Bridge, which left thousands of mostly black residents trapped in the city, and the failure to evacuate prisoners from the flooded Orleans Parish Prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which has long called for investigations into the conditions at the prison and on the bridge, welcomed the report and its recommendations.

'The state of Louisiana should be ashamed of its dismal human rights record as showcased to the world on its handling of the evacuation of those left behind after Katrina and the flood, mainly people of color and the poor,' said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. 'We have twice called for the Attorney General to complete his investigation of the Gretna Bridge incident and for the Department of Justice to look into the matter as well.'

Hurricane Katrina and Violations of ICCPR Articles 6 and 26

1. Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast area of the United States on August 29, 2005. The resulting floods, deaths, displacement, and humanitarian crisis made this hurricane one of the most devastating the United States has ever experienced. The public watched on their televisions as death and destruction unfolded in New Orleans and its surrounding areas. The question asked by nearly every viewer during those days was, “if the media can get there, why can’t any assistance? Why are these people dying?” The fact was that assistance could reach the people of New Orleans. It simply didn’t.
2. Although death and destruction was inevitable given the magnitude of this hurricane, a great many deaths were a direct result of the State party’s failure to provide adequate evacuation plans, evacuation assistance, and humanitarian aid. These failures constitute a violation to the State’s obligation under article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the “Covenant”) to protect, and fulfill the right to life. Further, the failure of the State party to provide appropriate remedies to the victims of article 6 violations constitutes a separate violation under article 2, paragraph 3 of the Covenant.
3. In addition to violations of the right to life, the State party also violated article 26 by violating the principle of non-discrimination in the way it prepared for Hurricane Katrina. The State party’s evacuation plans discriminated on the basis of property ownership, which resulted in discrimination based on race.
(Links added)

The statement is subtitled "A Response to the Third Periodic Report of the United States of America," which seems to have failed to address Katrina-related human rights issues in the course of a detailed account of the U.S. actions relevant to each of the articles of the ICCPR.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

TruthOut.Org "Katrina Plus Ten Months"

"virtualmatter" interviews New Orleans residents including Loyola University's Bill Quigley:
"A local congressman said a week after Katrina "God came in and did in one week what we've been trying to do for twenty years... so this is an opportunity for developers, for speculators, for real estate folks to come in and develop some very valuable property and turn it into middle and upper income property."
By the way, the congressman was Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge), although the quote I have on my other blog (via the Progress Report) is different in minor ways: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Incidentally, there are currently over 2000 "Katrina" videos on YouTube, most about the hurricane disaster.

They Are Not Coming

Luckydog starts the rememberences of Katrina with a personal look back at how he and his family were affected by the storm and the response. From the diary:

Here is where I must depart from a straight timed narrative. 'Cause here is where time breaks down. Where everything breaks down. From Tuesday until Friday morning, the radio, the people, everyone kept saying the same things, over and over. If you went into New Orleans, what you heard was...

"Oh. My. God."


""We gotta get them folks outta there."


"They are not coming."

"They" were the Federal government. Regular ol' civilians brought their little flat-bottomed aluminum fishing boats into New Orleans because "We gotta get them folks outta there." Alotta those regular ol' civilians were named Bubba, alotta them were the folks that some few people here call "rural Southern fucktards". The Coast Guard went to work. The Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries went to work. And the "rural Southern fucktards" went to work, too.

But the Feds...They are not coming.

I don't have to tell you what happened. You saw it on tv if you were not here. They are not coming. Everything broke down. Everything. They are not coming. How could this be happening? They are not coming. Why the fuck? They are not coming. They are not coming. They are not coming. They are not coming. They are not coming.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Archived sidebar links

The sites below have been archived here from the sidebar for future reference. They are either (1) inactive or defunct, or (2) have "moved on" to topics other than Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
This entry may be revised from time to time.