Back to New Orleans

On September 19, A. and I returned to New Orleans to check the apartment and pick up some items and a few trapped pets. Aside from the damage, two oddities stood out the entire time we were in the city: the military presence and the post-apocalyptic, ghost-town feel. We saw few people, but what few we saw were mostly in humvees or manning checkpoints. Unlike the New Orleans police who questioned us later, they were very polite.

Legally, we weren't supposed to be there. We left early from Laurel, Mississippi, which is about 100 miles from the decimated Coast but not far enough to've escape Katrina's wrath itself. After topping off the tank in Mandeville, scarfing down a poboy (the first authentic one since the storm) and making sure the way was clear, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain on the causeway. Relatives had told us it was impassable. It wasn't.

Arriving in Metairie, we were surprised at both the destruction and the lack thereof. When Katrina threw her tantrum, she was selective: most buildings were intact, with minimal wind damage, but here and there was a building missing a wall or an entire story. When we reached River Road, traffic was doing what FEMA did the week after the storm: nothing. So we took Jefferson Hwy and eased through a National Guard checkpoint. A few cars were being told to turn around and go back. For whatever reason, we weren't.

Uptown was lucky; it wasn't low enough to flood. Our apartment, a few blocks from the river, was untouched, as was all our stuff. The power was off and it was in the mid-90's outside, so we sweated our way through the apartment, hurriedly gathering a few items to ease our exile. Computer monitor. Router. Clothes. DVDs. I'm relieved I lost nothing but felt a little guilty that I didn't while so many others did, including my cousin who lost his house. A. and I suffered psychologically, but I was already in the middle of an existential crisis anyway, so even that doesn't count for much.

We locked up the house and headed for the Quarter. There was little damage there. Some signs dangling. The occasional car buried beneath a fallen facade. The Faubourg Marigny, just east of the Quarter, did equally well (the lack of trees probably helped).

That's where we broke into our first house.

We'd come with a list of pets to either feed or rescue, and the owner of this shotgun house had asked us to get the cats inside. They'd been there for three weeks and we didn't know what we'd find. A., an animal devotee, was afraid we'd find carnage. Fortunately, we'd planned ahead: In addition to 20 gallons of water and big bags of pet food, we'd brought a crowbar, an axe and a shovel, in case the animals we'd come for were dead.

Now I'd never opened a gate with a crowbar before, but it wasn't hard, even with the deadbolt, and the National Guard troops manning the barb-wired barricade a block away either weren't paying attention or didn't care. Once through the gate, we walked alongside the house and found the back door and side windows locked. One of them, however, was missing a small pane, but that wasn't enough to get in. The windows were about six feet aboveground and the latches were halfway up the windows, so we weren't sure how to get in. We found a plastic ice chest in the walkway and tried standing on it. That got me close enough to break enough windowpanes for A. to crawl through--with much wriggling and grunting and acrobatics.

Once through the window, A. looked anxious and said there was something unidentifiable on the floor. Afraid the cats had turned cannibals, she searched the rest of the apartment. She said it was a mess inside, with cat shit, torn food bags and so on. But no cats living or dead. Presumably, they'd exited through that one missing windowpane.

Getting out of the window proved more difficult than getting in. The jump was a long one, especially for non-cheerleaders, and there were a couple of shards of broken glass sticking out of the sides of the window, like the curled lip of a sneer. A. cut herself on one of these. Blood streamed down her forearm. Then I saw blood streaming down mine too. A. started sobbing. She said she wished we'd never come. (Later, she told me this was because she was afraid we'd find nothing wherever we went.) I shouted at her to jump down, and she did. I squirted water on her hand and my arm. She'd cut her hand--a minor wound. Same with my arm--just a nick near the elbow.

We drove through Bywater, checking on a couple of other houses, to no avail. Occasionally, we'd see a dog or cat and stop to give them water. At one point, a white cat nuzzled up to A. She nabbed him and put him in the car, planning on putting his mug shot on the web once we got back to Laurel. Moving on, we passed through Mid-City, we started seeing some of the damage we'd heard about. In some cases, it didn't look as bad as we expected, but there were always water lines on buildings. They gave better testimony than the detritus and dead grass.

We drove down Carrollton, in Mid-City, searching for a house not far from the initial 17th St. levee breach. The sister of the man who lived in the house had called me while we were driving to New Orleans, asking us to rescue her brother's cats. He'd been injured in the storm and, she said, needed something to live for. Along the way, we ran into a couple of official animal rescue volunteers in a white van. We gave them the address of a 9th ward Yorkshire Terrier on our list, the pet of a nursing-home resident, who was sure her dog was dead. They gave us air-filter masks and agreed to check on the dog.

After driving down a few streets covered in a dingy film, past innumerable abandoned cars detoxing from the flood waters they'd bathed in, we found the house. The water line almost reached the top of the first floor. An old car in the back of the driveway looked like someone dumped their trash on it. We made our way through an obstacle course of absurd litter on the outside stairs--the sort of stuff that would be on a porch, hinting at all the stuff that the waters had moved from one home to another.

The door was locked. Breathing through an air-filter mask (without it, the air smelled like sewerage), I tried to pry open the door with the crowbar. Several frustrating minutes later, I switched to the axe. But it's a stubborn door and the wood on the other side of the frame is strong. Kicking helped a bit, especially when I accidentally hit the panes of glass in the middle. They shattered on the other side and we crawled through.

Clearly, cats lived here. There was food and water in containers on the floor, though one or the other was almost out, and the leather furniture in the living room had become a toilet. To make matters worse, there was lots of junk in the hallway--perfect for cats to hide under. After searching for a while, we were about to leave when A. found a calico kitten, Jill. Jill wasn't happy about being found and was even less so about being jailed in a carrier. A few more minutes' searching revealed an adult Siamese, Jackie, which sank his claws into A. before she jailed him with his roommate.

It wasn't until we drove up Robert E. Lee, towards the lake, that we reached another National Guard checkpoint. There A. told the two soldiers about our friends' pets and led them to believe that she sort of lives in this area. Genial, they smiled awkwardly at A. and then let us through. Passing the bayou, we turned into Gentilly.

Everything looked like it was covered in ash. The roads were dirt once again. Here, large oaks lay uprooted on sludge-covered yards, many crushing cars and roofs. No one was here.

It was the last neighborhood on our list. We had a few places to check but I told A. that I thought we should leave. The first place was a ruined apartment complex. A circle with a slash through it was painted in glowing orange on the dingy brick. The entranceway was blocked by a long, broken awning. Beyond it was glistening foot-printed toxic sludge ending in a closed metal gate. I'd heard about rescue workers getting decontaminated after falling in the 9th-Ward water, so I was leery of getting near the sludge, even if it was mostly mud. We were not going in there, I said, and A. suggested we try around the side. I could hear in her voice she was determined to get in.

Along the side of the complex was a graveyard of cars. A couple we passed were half full of sludge. We stepped carefully through the courtyard, trying to stay on the dried mud. But the wing of the complex that was full of mud was the one where the apartment on our list was located, and A. was wearing flip-flops. So I went in. I climbed over the pool fence--the pool full of what looked like bubbling tar--and went up the stairs. The door I was looking for was open, with signs of tampering. A track of black footprints ran through the musty apartment. What little was inside was intact. No animals, though the food and water in bowls on the floor attested to their recent stay there.

I'd been taking pictures the whole time we'd been in New Orleans and now was no exception. On the way into the complex, I noted the abandoned muddy boots standing in the parking lot, as if their owner had been raptured. Now I stopped to photograph them before I got back in the car. Wary of the sludge, I put my muddy shoes in plastic bags.

We tried to get to the next place on the list, but there was a short bridge between here and there, and on the other side of the bridge everything looked wet, recently drained. "Fuck!" A. exclaimed. I didn't see how we could drive through what was on the other side, and neither did she. But I had to take a picture. Making a U turn, she stopped at the edge of the bridge and I walked onto the median in my socks. I went up a few yards and snapped a picture. A SUV passed, the Indian-looking driver wearing a dark blue tee shirt with official-looking yellow lettering. In the distance, another SUV, black-and-white with a bar of lights on top, was headed for the bridge. I got back in the car.

We were only yards from the bridge when the SUV turned on its lights and pulled us over.

A fit, balding cop appeared at A.'s door and beckoned her to get out. After a while of talking with him behind the car, a tall, steroid-abusing cop in a standard blue uniform motioned at me and I stepped onto the mud-caked road, my feet in plastic bags. He stood at a distance, his hand on his holster. Who was I? I handed him my passport. What was I doing on the bridge? Taking a picture. Was I supposed to be doing that? I thought I was free to do that, I said. He didn't like this response and told me that I couldn't "win" against him. He asked me if I was sure that there was nothing in the car that shouldn't be there, and I told him yes. Just water and cats. (Later, A. would tell me that they showed interest in my computer monitor. While that made sense, I was surprised they didn't ask to look in the trunk. I can't say whether asking to look is legal, but if they'd looked, they would've seen water and food--not looting materials.) I told the cop that the National Guard let us through the checkpoint. Frustrated but satisfied that I couldn't add anything more, he returned me to the car. Several minutes later, A. got in the car, sobbing.

She drove back toward Robert E. Lee, telling me details of what the cops had asked for. Like most cops who pull you over, they seemed intent on her convincing them that they were important men with authority. They didn't take kindly to the word "but" or to any sentence that was not a plain statement of fact. They stressed how dangerous the area was and asked her why she was trying to kill her boyfriend. They said women had been raped, though given the lack of people one wondered by whom. A. said that during the interrogation, they pushed the point that our being in Gentilly was illegal and that if we returned A. would be thrown in jail.

We weren't so sure of that, but we were leaving anyway and didn't want any (more) trouble. We tried exiting New Orleans the way we came in, but the National Guard stopped us at a checkpoint. Again, they were sheepish with A., like adolescents. But they were clear, so we left via Metairie. Seems that's where everyone was: on I-10, either coming or going. The traffic was bad but we got out quicker than we could've gotten to the airport during rush hour on a normal day.

It was a long drive. We were both emotionally exhausted, and the cats were yowling for the first few miles. After a couple of attempts at finding functioning cities in the far south of Mississippi, eventually we reached Hattiesburg. We were disheveled. My shoes were covered in mud and A.'s shirt was torn and stained. But we walked into the "New Orleans style" Crescent City Cafe without a problem, washed up and got a table.

BONUS: Pictures! (Apologies for the low aesthetic.)

POST SCRIPT: Cookie, the 9th-Ward Yorkie, was rescued that same day by the volunteers we gave her address to. They found her weak, barely breathing, in a space beneath fallen shelves, resting in a pool of toxic sludge. She couldn't even lift her head. Eight veterinarians spent hours saving her. Now she's recovering with one of the rescue workers, in New York. Supposedly, she was on local TV, but the worker who saved her hasn't sent us a tape or anything yet.

Jack and Jill, the two cats we took from the Mid-City apartment, were returned to their owner yesterday. We'll miss them.

The white cat tested positive for feline leukemia, though he seems healthy. He's in quarantine and will be tested again in a couple of weeks. We haven't yet found his owner.


Little Red Scooter

Okay, so it's no surprise that Scooter Libby was Judith Miller's source, but how could we have guessed that he'd replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the bench?


Paneed Lobbyist with Side of Staffer and the House Red

I have lamb chops thawing right now but they look like mouldering bread compared to this. O, ye bitter partisans....

P.S. I know I've broken delayed fulfilling promises in the past, but I swear to recount my recent adventures in my sodden city of New Orleans.


David Brooks: Deception is White House Policy

In case you missed it, David Brooks reports what's been obvious for years: The Bush White House's public relations strategy is intentionally deceptive and usually involves deflecting blame onto other, less blameworthy people. Next: David Brooks admits that the sky really is blue and not fuchsia, as Ari Fleischer claimed in 2003.


Brian Williams might want to mention illustrative moments like this on more than just his blog:
I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It's enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it... jump to certain conclusions.
(Via TPM.)

Now I'm not one to give this president the benefit of a doubt, since he gave up any right to one years ago, but could there possibly be security reasons for such an occurrence? If not, then it's noteworthy as political theater aimed at Bush's ego, not at the electorate whose slipping faith in him was the impetus for last night's monologue.


Bigger, Faster, Stronger!

In his speech tonight, President Bush asserted that the federal government's failure to adequately respond in the aftermath of Katrina indicates that it needs more power and authority.

But according to emergency management expert William C. Nicholson (and several other experts, according to Ira Glass of This American Life), the Department of Homeland Security had all the authority it needed, once the president had declared a state of emergency. Nicholson said that "there was all the authority in the world." Under the National Response Plan, even if the president hadn't declared a state of emergency, Chertoff, the head of Homeland Insecurity, could have acted. "It's utterly clear that they had the authority to preposition assets and to significantly accelerate the federal response.... They did not need to wait for the state." (Click on the Ira Glass link above and listen to the first few minutes.)

But Louisiana Governor Blanco did declare a state of emergency on the Friday before the storm. (Administration shills claimed she hadn't.) She then asked the president to follow through, which he did, and...well, you know what didn't happen then.

The point isn't to assess Bush's proportional responsibility for the weak federal response but to stress that this situation should not be used as a pretext to give the federal government more power. It may, however, be a great reason to fire the political appointees who staff FEMA (following the late but welcome resignation of Michael Brown) and to liberate that agency from the yoke of Michael Chertoff, who we could roast over some hot coals while we're at it. That would give the agency its former power without actually increasing that of the federal government. And it would give some stray New Orleans dogs some much longed-for, if stringy meat.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not suggesting Blanco, Nagin, Barbour, or anybody else down here be absolved of responsibility. But the early Administration "don't look at us" line was perfumed bullshit.

Supreme Soviet US Senate Republicans Want Partisan Katrina Kommission

Let the whitewashing begin. According to an ABC-WaPo poll
...76 percent of the public favors an investigation of federal storm response efforts by an independent commission similar to the one that probed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The proposal drew strong bipartisan support: 64 percent of all Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats favored creating the independent panel.
So what did the new Supreme Republican Soviet do? They voted against it. Don't you love Imperial life?

Of course, not all Republican bootlickers voted against it. For example, chickenshit Louisiana senator David "I helped DeLay and Abramoff fuck over them gambling Indians" Vitter just didn't vote. The wrath of Rove presumably would've been too much for a fledgling water-carrier senator.

We're looking forward to a thoroughly biased report with cherry-picked information that exonerates the administration while shitting on everyone else. You know, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on all those pre-war CIA failures. A nice, thick, meaningless report that propagandists can quote whenever Bush-undermining facts get in the way.

Unfortunately, what America needs is a thorough, unbiased investigation that lays bare every iota of this travesty, regardless of party affiliation, and puts the entire event in the decades-broad context of US emergency management, the Army Corps of Engineers' levee system and the erosion of Louisiana's wetlands.

Too bad we won't get it.


2000 Doesn't Equal 618

Prominent right-wing propagandists have been proclaiming that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin didn't use 2000 buses to evacuate poor, carless people from the city before the storm. They're right. But only because New Orleans didn't have 2000 buses. Media Matters, which unlike Jack Kelly and Sean Hannity bothered to check facts, reports that New Orleans has had a total of 618 working school and city buses. Now according to my calculations, if each bus had been able to hold 50 people—and that's unrealistic if not impossible—and had made three trips apiece, they would've been able to transport 92,700 people somewhere. Not out of the city, though, since one trip a reasonable distance from the city would've taken hours with all the traffic, and they wouldn't have been able to return because of contraflow (which worked pretty well, by the way). I imagine this is why the weekend before the storm the mayor told New Orleanians that buses would pick them up and take them to one of several shelters of last resort. Apparently some of those buses didn't show up; but that's a different issue.

We're Getting Out of Here

This story from a friend of a friend appears in the 9/16 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only). It isn't as dramatic as some, but it makes me really glad I left before the storm.

Bill Lavender runs the Low Residency Creative Writing Program at the University of New Orleans. His companion, Nancy Dixon, teaches in the university's English department. Over a cellphone, Mr. Lavender described their journey out of the city.

When we heard about the storm, we decided not to evacuate, because we really didn't think our house was in grave danger. We live in Mid-City, which is a part of New Orleans that's relatively high but not as high as the French Quarter. It's an old house. It's been through plenty of hurricanes.

I guess the storm was at full force at midmorning on Monday. It never was really that bad -- I actually put on my motorcycle helmet and walked around outside at the height of it. We lost power, of course. We still had water, we still had gas.

By about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the storm was over. There was a little bit of water in the street, but nothing I couldn't have driven through. Our reaction at that point was, Well, this wasn't really that bad.

If that had been all the storm was, I wouldn't have regretted staying.

At some point in there, the water did start to rise. It was rising in the full sunshine, with no rain, just coming up in the streets.

Our neighbor across the street, who had evacuated, had a boat under her house -- a 14-foot light aluminum skiff with oarlocks and oars. As kind of a lark, I went and pulled it out from under her house and put it in the street.

That night, Monday night, we went out on the front porch. There was absolutely no light, and there was no noise, and the stars were fantastically clear.

We got up the next morning, and the water was higher. We were trying to listen to the radio, trying to figure out what was going on. We were hearing that the flooding on the east side of New Orleans was really bad. We were starting to hear helicopters flying around.

There was a rumor that the levee was broken somewhere, but that they were going to be fixing it, and that as soon as they got the levee fixed, they were going to be able to pump the water out. I was thinking maybe the end of the week, at the most.

One of my neighbors came to my door and said there was a guy around the corner with a baby who needed to go to the hospital. The guy was scared to death of water.

So we got in the boat, and we were rowing down the street, trying to pick the best route to Mercy Hospital. There was water all the way -- right up to the front door.

Some guy in scrubs got down in the water and helped me dock the boat there on the steps. He was a paramedic who worked for the city. He said they had no power in the hospital, and he had a generator down at his office. He wanted to know if I could row him down there so he could get this generator.

And I asked him, "Doesn't the hospital have backup power?" He said, "Yeah, they have a generator, but it's in the basement."

It was ludicrous, this notion of going to get a 5,000-watt generator to power a hospital. But he said, "There are people dying in here, and it's all we can do."

So we went to his paramedic station, a little two-story metal building. Two of his colleagues were there.

This guy I'm with told them, "I've come to get the generator." And they told him no. He said, "Look, there are people dying in Mercy."

"Well things are tough all over, and before this generator comes out of here, I've got to get me and my dogs out."

At that point, I kind of exploded. I said, "You're not even using the generator. The generator has nothing to do with your dogs." It kind of shamed them. We finally did get the generator.

We had our last good meal that night. We were having wine on the front porch, all the neighbors were out on their porches, and I got out my guitar and sang "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

That night it was really hot and really still. There were helicopters messing around all night. I had this idea they were either evacuating Mercy Hospital or bringing them a generator. At one point they were so close that I could feel the wind, so I took to praying for them to come over.

It wasn't until Wednesday that we started to get more information. There was a press conference at 12. They said they thought the levee repairs would be done by about Friday. Then they said they should have the water out of the city within about 30 days. I said, "We're getting out of here. We can't live like this for 30 days."

We packed up very hastily -- all our drinking water and a good bit of food. I left my hard drive with 30 years of miscellaneous writings on it, plus Nancy's hard drive with all her scholarship on it. I just tried to hide them in the attic. I didn't know what else to do.

We had to put our cat in a carrying cage, and we put our dogs on the boat. We went and got our neighbor, my friend Charlie Franklin. We told him what we'd heard and we told him it's time to go. He thought about it for about two minutes, and then said OK.

We were nervous. We knew there were no police. We'd been warned that there were roving bands of armed looters. We knew that the boat was becoming a valuable commodity. The dogs were nervous also. They would not let anyone approach closer than about 10 feet from the boat. Charlie had a gun.

When we turned one corner, there was a kiddie pool floating in the middle of Canal Street, and I could see a head sticking up over the side of it. There was another guy pushing it and another guy wandering around in the chest-deep water looking kind of dreamy. They were junkies that had looted the Rite Aid. They were using this kiddie pool to get out of the water to shoot up.

A little further, there was a dead man in the water. Someone had hung his shirt up on a street sign. I couldn't really see his face, but the shirt was sticking up like a tent. We heard later they were tying corpses to street signs and poles.

Across the street was a building called the City Hall Annex. It has a big front porch that was just above water level, and it was full of people, maybe 150. On one end, there were women and kids holding up signs saying, "Help us please." At the other end of the porch there was this mad party going on. They were breaking windows and throwing whiskey bottles around and kind of whooping and yelling.

We were starting to get very careful about our route because we were getting close to the Superdome, and we didn't want to get caught there. Our plan was to go to the Macy's parking lot, which is just adjacent to the dome, where we had parked our car. We were just praying that we might be able to get to the car and drive out.

There were no cops. In this whole ride, we never saw a cop.

When we got to the Macy's parking lot, we saw that the entrance was four feet deep. So we couldn't get our car. We followed the water to the corner of Girod and Carondolet, and that's where the water ended. We had to abandon the boat.

So we started walking uptown, to go to my ex-wife's house, which we knew was dry, and they had a generator and probably food and water. For all I knew, they were still there, because I hadn't talked to them since Monday morning when the phones went out.

We saw this two-story house with the facade completely removed. It was just like a dollhouse. I could see the furniture and the bookshelves, everything neat, nothing in disarray, and these two black labs up on the second floor looking down at us.

After a while, a guy caught up with us. He told us he had walked all the way from the lower Ninth Ward. I'm guessing that must be at least five miles. He told us that down in the Ninth Ward he was literally wading through bodies on the way out. He didn't know where any of his family was. He had a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old kid, and he suspected that they were both dead. He was coming uptown because he had a brother who was a butler in a Garden District mansion.

He told us that in the end there will be tens of thousands dead.

We got to my ex's house. We were just praying that we were going to see her pickup outside the house. But there was nothing, and our hearts just sank. We'd been on the road now for about four to five hours. We were exhausted.

Then I remembered that our friends lived just a few blocks away, and they had left their car. Not only that, but I knew right where the key was. We got to Alex and Kat's house, and the car was intact, and the key was in the mailbox. But we couldn't make the key work in the door. I tried it and Charlie tried it, and finally I said, "Charlie, move," and I threw a brick through the window.

We crammed all of us in the car. We drove to Tchoupitoulas Street and then straight across the bridge to the West Bank, the only way out.

The next day, we were going to leave Charlie in Baton Rouge to take the bus to Alexandria, but we found out that there were 200,000 people downtown trying to get out. So we took him all the way to Alexandria. We started to have the emotional breakdown. It was strange how, going through the whole thing, I just sort of never stopped. None of us did.

But when we dropped Charlie off, all three of us broke down and started crying and pretty much didn't stop for about three days.

Section: Notes From Academe
Volume 52, Issue 4, Page A56


I'm on TV!

Not really. But CNN just did a piece on a family who appear to be my neighbors. We thought the homes they were walking past looked familiar, and then they walked past Ms. Mae's, the corner bar one block north of our apartment. The neighborhood doesn't look much different from when we left--just that the only cars are camoflaged.

Sing, Caged Bird, Sing!

Oh, please, please, let it be true....

(Just admit it, people, even you want just a teensy bit for another news story to come along. How much Katrina koverage can you take?)


On Your Own, Baby

Heartwarming and Heartwarming II. (Via Andrew Sullivan.) Don't worry, I'm sure that if any of this gets any press, the Bush shock troops will start attacking the victims, per usual.

UPDATE: Think the two eyewitness accounts above aren't bad enough? Try what happened to Charmaine Neville (for those who don't know, she's a famous local singer). It's somewhere approaching what happened when the USS Indianapolis sank, only with choppers flying overhead that don't drop any food or water or offer any assistance whatsoever. Heartwarming. WARNING: Not for the faint of heart or those without ample supplies of Kleenex. (Also via Andrew Sullivan.)

Note: A previous version of this post overreached. The comments refer to that.



A Refugee's Tale

P., a friend of A.'s, had this to say about leaving New Orleans:
Well, you know me... everyone evaced on Sunday but G. and I stayed along with our soccer buddy J. (british) and Katrina wasn't too terrible. The wind was crazy and the water rose and the trees lost huge branches. We stayed in a friends big brick house, they'd taken off for Houston, and the top windows blew out and we had to board them up with nails and beach towels, the next door landlords weren't as lucky, their windows blew in and the rain destroyed their ceilings, collapsed them, but just wallboard, an easy fix really. My house was fine, just two knocked down fences and a broken gate. The shed I built was fine and only lost a few shingles. The three of us spent Monday night frying up chicken and potatoes and drank port on the porch and enjoyed the no lights and the fact we could see the stars. But come Tuesday, when we heard the water was rising and that the Mississippi was getting in [Note: it was Lake Ponchartrain. -Rob] we rode bikes to the business district and saw the water advancing and people looting, albeit small-scale. We headed to Wal-Mart where we heard they were handing out free water. We get there and the place was an orgy of looting. Cops putting TV sets in their gov't cars church ladies stealing pots and pans and tampons and facial cream. I can only assume that the items on the shelves left were condoms, encyclopedias, and healthy foods like fruits and veggies and whole wheat bread. We made the decision to leave then and spo we ciphoned fuel from G.'s car and a couple of neighbors' gas cans into my car and took off. The Rite-Aid was being looted as we did this and shots rang out and a chase ensued as a mid-fifties man on a bike who took a few photos had to pedal for his life. Its a mess, quite literally and now there are supposedly armed gangs on the streets and the water ain't stopping. My story really ends there, and now I'm here in Austin, TX and looks like we'll have some time off from work, so wonder what I'll do.


P.S. Hurricane Katrina is a major cock-block.
ED. NOTE: It's worth mentioning that when the upscale Whole Foods Market was looted, people allegedly took only what they needed, like water. The wine and much of the rest of the merchandise was left on the shelves—and they have some kick-ass wine.

Move over, Harding

From David Remnick's 9/12 New Yorker editorial:
...In an era of tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush consistently slashed the Army Corps of Engineers' funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain. This year, he asked for $3.9 million, $23 million less than the Corps requested. In the end, Bush reluctantly agreed to $5.7 million, delaying seven contracts, including one to enlarge the New Orleans levees. Former Republican congressman Michael Parker was forced out as the head of the Corps by Bush in 2002 when he dared to protest the lack of proper funding.

Similarly, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which is supposed to improve drainage and pumping systems in the New Orleans area, recently asked for $62.5 million; the White House proposed $10.5 million. Former Louisiana Senator John Breaux, a pro-Bush Democrat, said, "All of us said, 'Look, build it or you're going to have all of Jefferson Parish under water.' And they didn't, and now all of Jefferson Parish is under water."

The President's incuriosity, his prideful insistence on being an underbriefed "gut player," is not looking so charming right now, either, if it ever did. In the ABC interview, he said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." [Note: I heard about it on the radio before the hurricane. -Rob] Even the most cursory review shows that there have been comprehensive and chilling warnings of a potential calamity on the Gulf Coast for years. The most telling, but hardly the only, example was a five-part series in 2002 by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a newspaper that heroically kept publishing on the Internet last week. After evaluating the city's structural deficiencies, the Times-Picayune reporters concluded that a catastrophe was "a matter of when, not if." The same paper said last year, "For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade." A Category 4 or 5 hurricane would be a catastrophe: "Soon the geographical 'bowl' of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris." And that describes much of the Gulf Coast today.
New Orleans, yes. That's on TV right now. Apparently, the first G.W. saw of the disaster was when he flew over it in his chopper. If that's true, it's appalling. We know Bush doesn't read the papers—the best source of in-depth information—but did he not even turn on the television to see what was going on?

In any case, there's plenty of blame to spread around, going back decades. But I want the head of this serial abuser of office and the public trust on a pike in front of the White House, warning all future holders of that office not to do what this man-child has done. Move over Harding, here comes G.W. Bush, the worst president in United States history.


Bill Shanks: God Punished New Orleans

Pastor Bill Shanks, of New Covenant church, which I used to visit on occasion, back in my Christ-worshipping days, thinks Katrina was, you know, good for New Orleans:
"New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."
Unfortunately, New Orleans isn't free of Bill Shanks.

I hate to say it, but I know this guy (haven't seen him in years). I've even taken his kids to the zoo. His church is pretty insular and cult-like. Not on purpose; he's no David Koresh. But Bill's only moderately educated and is self-taught in all things biblical. He's short and chubby and could be anybody's uncle. He'd blend right in at a barbecue. Until he started talking Jesus. And prophesying and laying on hands and casting out demons (you know, for kids!). Like many folks on the religious Right, he means well but he's just really, really misguided.

I know you're never going to read this, Bill, but for the record, you can go to hell.

Gross Negligence


UPDATE: With a side order of Sick.

UPDATE: Finally, some relief for those in the Convention Center.

Halliburton Gets Katrina Kontract

Surprise, surprise. (Thanks, Larisa.)


Dear News Media

As usual, the national print coverage of the Katrina aftermath has been good if not excellent (e.g. Knight Ridder), while the national TV and radio coverage has been mediocre. That's not to say that CNN, NPR and others haven't filed some oustanding reports from New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but (unfortunately) their reporting stops there. Many refugees are starved for information about their cities and homes, and the national news media aren't providing it.

I know it's hard to fathom, but the function of news reporting isn't solely to fill corporate coffers with advertising dough wrung from others' suffering. It's also to inform the public.

I am that public. Many of my friends are that public.

We who fled New Orleans would like to know the state of our homes. CNN has show innumerable helicopter shots of New Orleans, careful to pan east where the worst flooding is, and to zoom in on the Superdome and the fire on the West Bank. That leads me to believe that CNN is capable of determining what parts of the city aren't yet flooded, how fast the water may or may not be moving and how high the water appears to be from various rooftops. That would be useful information. Wolf Blitzer in his "situation room" could show a map with, say, blue indicating where water is. He could tell us where the water isn't. This could take, say, five minutes, tops.

We who fled South and Central Mississippi (and those who remained) would like to know the state of Hattiesburg, Meridian, Laurel, Brookhaven, Jackson and other places that, unfortunately, don't provide the dramatic footage available on the Gulf Coast. There are, however, plenty of trees down and homes wrecked. Might that not justify a quick trip north, Mr. Cooper? We promise to have plenty of starving, heat-exhausted people desperate for a meal and a drink. We promise to give you lots of tragic stories of families torn apart, relatives lost and couples reunited. Come, will you? Please? Those of us who fled would like to know if we can go back. Those who remained would like to know (if they have batteries and a portable TV) where and when food and ice and water will arrive, and when the phones and lights and water will work. Well, CNN, NPR, MSNBC and FOX, can you spare one reporter and a camera crew?

UPDATE: We finally got somebody on the phone in Laurel, Mississippi. The power's supposed to return on Sunday. I found no reporting on this; even Mississippi Power's website had nothing. How did we find out? A phone call to neighbors in Laurel (the phone must've come back on in the last 24 hours).


Changes in Attitudes

Rumsfeld on looting in post-Saddam Baghdad, 2003:
"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."

Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.
Bush on looting in post-Katrina New Orleans, 2005:
I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this — whether it be looting, or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud," Bush said. "And I've made that clear to our attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together.