Monday, February 20, 2006

One house, one family, one story.

Our friends Pat and Michael’s house flooded in NOLA and they lost everything they owned. I stopped by to look at their house, which isn’t far from Lake Pontchartrain. They had about eight feet of water in their neighborhood, up to their roof eve. They only things they were able to save were some Christmas decorations that were in the attic and some crystal that amazingly wasn’t crushed.

From the outside of the house it doesn’t seem to be too damaged. But once you pass through the front door what you see inside is simply shocking - utter and complete destruction. It’s as if the house was shaken like a snow globe and then covered by a filthy murk and mold that is spreading like ivy all over the house. What’s hard to reconcile is the random nature of the destruction. Some things were tossed and shredded like the couch and frig and others remained quietly in their place like Pat’s glasses on the kitchen counter.

What’s left now is an eerie setting. You look around at all this violent destruction and yet there is a peaceful calm to it all. It’s quiet and still. What once was a happy home, full of a lifetime of possessions has become a tomb of sadness and loss. And this is repeated at the house next door, down the block, to the next neighborhood and the next town, across the state line into Mississippi. Thousands of families have had the same experience as Pat and Michael. They simply have lost everything.

I had dinner with them last night and while this has been an emotional rollercoaster and sometimes frustrating experience, I was amazed by their sense of optimism that they will recover and move on with their lives. How do they cope? Pat said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Notice the teddy bear on the hanging from the chandelier. He just rested there after the water subsided.

Pat's glasses on the kitchen counter.

The pool. I almost stepped right in it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

February 18, 2006

It’s Saturday night. I’m in the Hampton Inn off highway 10 in Baton Rouge and it’s the first time in over thirty days I’ve had free internet access in my hotel room. So to celebrate, I decided to just post some photos that have no relevance other than they are neat to look at. I’m too tired to be thoughtful, so indulge me. I hope you enjoy my random thoughts via these photographs.

Mother Mary comfort me.

Can't go to NOLA without taking a photo of a cemetery.

I love a challenge.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Did she or didn’t she?

This barge has become a celebrity in the lower ninth ward. A guard posted nearby, guesses anywhere from 100-300 people a day are stopping by to take a look at the barge that broke the levee. But did she break the levee or just roll into the ward after the levee burst? This is a question perhaps only Jerry Bruckheimer and his team could answer. In the meantime the curious stop and wonder about how such a large, heavy boat, could simply come to rest in a residential neighborhood. Even when you see it, it’s still hard to believe it’s real.

Levee repair in earnest. Hurricane season starts in a few months.

The other celebrity in the lower 9th is this house. Yes that’s a house on top of an upside down truck. There are others just like it in the neighborhood but for some reason this one has captured everyone’s attention. A rap star from NOLA filmed his latest rap video in front of the house. When I took this photo 10 people must have rolled by and snapped away.

The ninth ward near the levee break.

A less famous house on top of car.

The feedbag

The creepy addition to the neighborhood since I’ve been here last is a crew of black crows buzzing around looking for snacks. God only knows what they are eating. I admit I was so freaked out by them that I refused to get out of the car for a couple of shots and remained in the safety of my soccer mom van. I used a lot of baby wipes after this visit to the ward.

This is one of those arty shots that forces you think about how horrible the whole tragedy is and how nothing was spared. But actually I saw many stuffed toys that made it through the storm. I’m not sure why. What are the bears trying to tell us?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

French Quarter

Galatoie's open for business. This is good news.

Cafe Du Monde open for business.

Good news

Tulane Hospital started taking patients on Tuesday. To celebrate this momentous occasion they had an emotional ceremony on the now famous rooftop of the parking garage. It was from there that they evacuated 2800 patients, staff and visitors via helicopter. From infants on ventilators to the critically ill they didn’t loose one single patient. As you can imagine the staff that so heroically serviced their patients were filled with memories and sentiment as they stood on that roof deck once again. In dramatic fashion a medical helicopter flew in the flag that was draped over the hospital during those post-hurricane days and when it was re-hung, there was hardly a dry eye on the deck. This is a remarkable step in the long-term recovery of New Orleans and is a testament to the resolve of the men and women of Tulane hospital to once again open their doors to the patients of the city.

Hanging the flag.

In only six months they went from a gut job to state of the art emergency treatment rooms.

This is the before shot. They are still working on the rest of the first floor.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday February 12, 2006

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Plato

I spent today touring part of the Gulf coast in Waveland, Mississippi. The destruction here has simply wiped out this small coastal town. It’s hard to imagine that there were actual neighborhoods standing here. I’ve come to appreciate the statistic that damage from Katrina spans 90,000 square miles. Witnessing the suffering this storm has left in her wake seems to have become a journey with no end.

This is the grocery store in Waveland. The sign in front of it thanks all those who helped the citizens of Waveland recover from hurricane Camille that hit in 1969.

This building was on the boardwalk. Notice the couch is still in place.

Rule number one for evacuation, always drive the Rolls.

Mardi Gras parade, Slidell, LA.
Lake Pontchartrain borders Slidell and as a result the town suffered massive flooding. Just two blocks from this parade route are hundreds of houses ruined by the water. But the Mardi Gras parade rolled on and everyone seemed to be having a good time including the kids, grabbing beads and marching in the parade. As they say, “Laissez les bon temps roulez.” “Let the good times roll.”

This FEMA trailer is located in a Slidell neighborhood flooded by ten feet of water. When I stopped to take this photo I met the co-owner, Will. They are in the process of gutting and renovating their house. They decided their FEMA trailer needed a little Mardi Gras decorating. The chandelier is from a neighbor’s home. Will told me they are very grateful for their FEMA trailer. At least there is one satisfied customer.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

You can post comments now.

Thanks to Amy, I changed the settings on my page so now you can post a comment and you don't have to be a blogger. Sorry about that. I’m new to this whole thing and just trying to figure it out. Which is why I posted most of the items today in the wrong order. Maybe I’ll get the hang of this some day. It doesn’t help that the only internet connection I can get is at the Whole Foods and they are closing up for the night.

Plaquemines Parish.

Saint Ann’s Catholic Church was about 300 yards to the left before the storm. Look below the hanging part of the door and you’ll see a tree stub. That’s what remains of a giant magnolia tree that caught the church and stopped it in its tracks. The firemen just cut the tree down and are using it for firewood. I checked and found no ruby slippers.

Interior shot of St. Ann’s. The sun cooperated for this shot. I’m not certain but it looks like the water line is in the cove of the ceiling which would make it about ten feet.

This is a shot of the interior of the apartment.

What’s left of this structure was actually an apartment on the second story of a small warehouse.

The woman is living in this trailer now. You can see that she’s neatly piled up some lumber that she may be able to use later.

This is what’s left of a woman’s house I met in Plaquemines Parish. She’s been cleaning up since the storm. The debris pile used to be much larger.

“Typical” damage in Plaquemines Parish.

Feb 9, 2006

Last Saturday I took at trip to Plaquemines Parish. From Baton Rouge it’s about a 2.5-hour drive. This parish is at the southern tip of NOLA. The eye of Katrina passed over this sliver of Louisiana and the destruction in this rural community is painfully evident. It seems that nothing has been left standing in tact. There was great wind damage here. Thousands of trees were either uprooted and made into kindling or stripped bare of its leaves and branches. Hundreds of houses and businesses were simply blown away by the violent wind. The storm surge flooded most of the inlet. So whatever the wind didn’t get the water did. There is no electricity, water, or sewage service. The people who live in Plaquemines Parish are farmers, ranchers and fisherman and many of them are reluctant to abandon the land and water that has provided their lively hood for generations. Some live in trailers with limited services. Their resolve has lead them to clean up what they can and ask for simple things like the Coast Guard righting their fishing vessels that were tossed like toy ships during the storm. It’s a hard life. Living in these conditions requires a mental and physical character that few possess. But the people of Plaquemines Parish seem determined to get back on their feet.

When I left the parish and drove back towards Baton Rouge Tommy called me and told me he might be leaving for Kuwait sooner than expected. I drove most of the way in silence. I was overwhelmed. As the sun set over the water I thought about the people I met that day, simply caring on with their lives, and tried to muster a little Plaquemines Parish spirit. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A FEMAville. Soon home to hundreds.

Saturday Feb 6, 2005

This photo was taken not far from Tulane University, the "dry" part of town.

Feb 7, 2006

Greetings from Baton Rouge, or as the locals like to call it, Red Stick.

I am continuing my position as a Public Information Officer with FEMA. I thought this blog would be a good way to post some photos and thoughts from my experiences here in Louisiana.

After seeing much destruction and devastation, yesterday, I had the good fortune to cover a story with a happy ending, and one that will stay with me in my thoughts for a long time to come.

Sarah, 89, is just one of the thousands of displaced by Katrina. She has been living at a nursing home on the Louisiana/Arkansas border since September 9th. On August 29th Sarah and her family were rescued from their flooded home in New Orleans by boat. Eventually they were driven by a van to the convention center. There her daughter, Rose 71, and other family members got out of the van only to watch as the driver drove off with her mother and two other elderly women. Sarah was now a Jane Doe, and Rose had no idea where she was going.

The nurses at the home took Sarah into their hearts, and worked relentlessly to try and find her family. They too were searching. Jane can barely speak so the nurses had limited information to enter into the missing person internet sites. About all they knew was her first name. With the help of a FEMA officer, they finally got a hit on a site and within hours Sarah spoke a few words on the phone to Rose. Tears of joy flowed on both ends of the line.

So after almost six months of being apart Rose made the trip from Houston with her daughter-in-law to see Sarah. The reunion was filled with joy and tears. Rose told me later that not knowing what happened to her mother was almost too much of a burden to carry. She thought she had died during the rescue. You can imagine her relief not only to see her once again but to know that she getting tender love and care from her newly extended family at the nursing home.

Rose still has a mountain of worries. Her house was destroyed. She’s displaced in Houston far from her mother’s nursing home. She’s not sure what the next step for her family will be. But she told me being reunited with her mother has brought her some much-needed peace in her life. The rest she will face one day at a time.