11/17/2005

Daily Kos: Notes from NOLA

Notes from NOLA
by out grrl [Subscribe]
Wed Nov 16, 2005 at 10:36:01 PM CST

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 I originally made the list for my personal friends, but have been asked to post it here.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

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

* out grrl's diary :: ::
*

Well, I went back to NO last weekend. Here are some thoughts -- in no particular order.

* Hurricanes make lots of firewood. Seriously. There are piles of wood three stories tall in the neutral ground. They have giant cranes on top of them that pick up pieces of the pile and drop them into wood chippers the size of trucks. Branches, leaves, massive oak stumps - all pulverized instantaneously. It smells like Christmas near the wood piles. It smells like rotten garbage everywhere else.

* Your house can double as an ark. In Chalmette, the storm picked up all of the houses and floated them around until they smashed each other to bits or piled up in a giant house-jam. There are houses smashed up with other houses. Houses in the middle of the street. Houses broken in half and lots of empty spaces where houses used to be. It isn't like this for a couple of blocks. It is like this for miles and miles. When Aaron Broussard said "St. Bernard Parish is gone" he was speaking the truth.

* Yachts do terrible things to building. On the lakefront, the huge yachts and sailboats came loose and smashed through everything. Having a yacht hit your house is not a good thing. Most of them are tangled up in a huge yacht-jam (see a theme here?) where the marina used to be. You look up and all you see are huge white boats tangled up in a giant mass. A few of them broke loose and smashed through the neighborhood. There is a house with a yacht in it. There is a house with a car upended on the fence. There are lots of houses that are smashed to pieces. The long line of restaurants and bars that used to line the lakefront are all gone. Joe's Crab Shack is the only thing left. There is nothing but an empty field and some stumps.

* Steel and Brick aren't guarantees. There is a whole line - blocks long - of collapsed old buildings in Arabi. They must have survived Betsy. There is a steel sign in Chalmette that is twisted like taffy. There are piles of salvaged bricks on the sides of the road. Pile after pile that someone has taken the time to sort. Pile of red brick. Pile of paving stones. Pile of delta mud brick ... for blocks. Who knows what they will do with it all.

* You need people to operate businesses. Most places are closed. There is no one to staff all of the businesses. They are estimating that 65K people have returned. That is not enough to operate all of the business that were there before. There are "Help Wanted" signs all up and down Clearview. They are offering signing bonuses at McDonald's. If you go out to eat, you can expect to have one server in the entire restaurant. You will be happier if you come prepared to bus your own table and pick up your own food from the kitchen. I knew it was bad before I made it out of the airport. You can't get Blue Bell ice cream. You can't get a smoothie. You can't get a magazine or a cup of PJ's coffee. There is no one to man the registers. You can't get a cab. There isn't anyone at the cab stand and there isn't anyone driving. City Park is full of tents and campers occupied by laborers. They are drawn to the $15/hour they can make on the clean-up crews. They have created a little laborer city where we used to walk Basco when he was a puppy.

* Good thing - they are going to do Christmas in the Oaks. Walking tour only, but they already had some lights out when we drove through the park.

* People in Louisiana have a sense of humor. In Chalmette there is a house in the middle of the street. Someone made some legs, attached some sparkly shoes and stuck them to the side of the house. They put a witch's hat next to it and spray painted "Wicked Witch" above it. There are thousands of ruined refrigerators. The former owners put signs on them before putting them out on the block. Examples: "To whoever opens this refrigerator: Welcome to the bowels of hell", "Mr. Stinky", "Katrina, Rita, Wilma, cont. on next side Alpha, Beta" and, on a row of five pushed together, "Jesse Jackson said we could live here". If a girl had the time, she could do a whole coffee table book on the refrigerator art.

* Fires are bad, too. There are multi-block areas that have been burned. The house-arks left bubbling gas lines behind that occasionally exploded. Whole commercial blocks are nothing but black hulks. I am not sure if it would be worse coming back to find your house burned and gutted or sitting in the middle of the street with all of the contents covered in mold and thrown about like garbage. The intact houses are deceptive. The insides are gray with mold spores and mud and all of the furniture pushed to one end. They look like they have been ransacked and abandoned for centuries. A lot of the rental property has been abandoned by the tenants. I can see why. I don't think I would be very enthusiastic about picking through mountains of reeking, mold-infested garbage in the hopes of salvaging one or two things. G's folks could only salvage their wedding rings. F ran into a lady clutching something in her hand. He asked her what it was and she said "All I found was my refrigerator and all I could save from it were three magnets". All she had left were three refrigerator magnets and she wasn't letting them go.

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

* People go through a lot of clothes in the clean up.

Random things:

* Even though about 1000 bodies were recovered, only about 400 have been identified and there are over 4000 still missing.
* From someone who was there: the initial stories of murder and mayhem in the Superdome and Convention Center were true. The sanitized later versions were not.
* Blanco will likely lose the next election. Nagin likely will not. Most of the anger seems focused on FEMA and the Corps of Engineers - especially the Corps. Blanco is viewed as ineffective. Nagin seems to be taking on a mythical persona.
* Looters will be shot. Trespassers will be shot.
* Many people have large, vicious dogs and - if you believe the signs - they are loose in the yard.
* Mardi Gras will happen.
* Gretna Festival will happen.
* The shrimp lot is open.
* The houses in the rich neighborhoods are already under repair.
* There are thousands of blue-tarped roofs.
* Hank's is open.
* The Abbey is closed.
* Broussard's is open.
* Even the stuff that is open is closed by 7.
* Everyone we know is alive.
* It is about 1000% times worse than anything you are seeing on TV.

Daily Kos: Notes from NOLA

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