Friday, November 11, 2005

New Orleans: Okay, We're Back, I Guess

Sorry about the disconnect, dunno what happened.

A friend of mine sent me an article about how Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they shouldn't be surprised if they got a shot of the Wrath of God in the near future because they had their local school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design." I am going to have to look up Robertson's take on the Katrina disaster; God seems to be sending us mixed messages because the only place that came through relatively unscathed around here is the old French Quarter: home of the most famous jazz clubs, gay bars, and live nude clubs. The rest of the city was practically drowned, but the French Quarter remained high and dry and is already opening up for red light business again.

If I see Robertson in a strip club down here I'm going to ask him about this in light of his recent curse on Pennsylvania voters.

Anyway--people continue to return and to shovel debris out of the streets in front of their homes. There is a small army of insurance adjustors--perhaps twelve to thirteen thousand, according to my source--that spread out from the epicenter of New Orleans to all cities and communities where evacuees can be found. Some evacuees are saying they'll never come back, some are already returning.

Signs of the city left over from weeks past: Huge spray-painted messages for help on the street surface ("Food?" "Water?") Emergency tent camps still operating, some set up next to re-opening restaurants. Disgusting refrigerators line the streets; officials are picking them up as fast as they can because they are health hazards. Have you ever seen a refrigerator that's been abandoned for weeks without electricity just after you've done a big "shop"? Well, you don't want to, believe me. We moved just two of them out of peoples' homes in the last three days, and that's two more than I ever want to move again. The drunken pirate who has become my next-door neighbor had already helped move out enough fridges for his neighbors by the time we arrived. The pirate saw me pushing one in my rubber gloves and HEPA filter mask smeared with Vicks-Vapo-Rub and just laughed at me. ("I love you, brother, but not THAT MUCH! HAR HAR HAR!" (drinks more beer)

Residents sometimes write angry FEMA criticism graffiti on the sides of the fridges ("We don't need lentils, we need electricity!") Officials and contractors are working like hell to get the most dangerous garbage off the streets ASAP but some neighborhoods still have that sickly sweet death smell...

On the other hands: Clean water and electricity were available every place I've visited (I haven't been everywhere.) French Quarter, as I say, beginning to come back to life; had a good dinner in a little hole in the wall place on Decatur Street, live pick-up band playing "St. James Infimary," much applause from tired but appreciative crowd. Guys fronting bands, singing the blues. It's a unforgettable thing; most other places in the world would still be a ghost town, I bet.
Outsiders showing up to help clean up, spend a little money and get things going again--off-duty National Guard and Army, missions, just plain old volunteers and friends come in to town because they want to help. A lot of people really love this place even if they never lived here.

Downtown skyscrapers lit up at night; but windows on some floors blasted out by the storm and then boarded over. City Hall had to be abandoned; they are working out of town in a tent encampment and high school auditorium or something. Downtown was hit particularly hard--abandoned cars everywhere with the waterline visible halfway up the doors. Streets of empty cars and debris in some neighborhoods still give them the flavor of those "Mad Max" movies. At the same time, there's people--the streets are cleared, there's some taxis, lots of cars, lots of folks still getting around on bikes, the tearing down and rebuilding of homes is already going on.

Eeriest thing of all: no children.

More anecdotal stuff: Some residents were kind of pissed about the media coverage, especially the "heavy rotation" of looting footage. According to these folks, the reality was about ten per cent looting, ninety per cent local folks trying to help and feed each other. Soon after the storm, the old drunken pirate next door neighbor took the emergency food he was given and turned his house into a kind of all night barbecue for anyone who showed up needing something to eat. "We drank beer alla time cause the water wasn't right! HAR HAR HAR!" (drinks more beer)

Que viva NOLA! (NOLA="New Orleans, Loozee-ana"


At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post on NOLA made my heart sing. Phoenix rising from the ashes! You down there to help? To report? Or a little of both?

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Prendergast said...

I was down there to help; reporting was an afterthought. About the rising from the ashes: as I say in my post, I was staying in the old part of the city, near the French Quarter. The storm devastated hundreds of homes, but that part of town didn't suffer nearly as much as the lower 9th Ward and downtown and all the parts inside the flood bowl. The city is just beginning to get back up off the canvas, and there's a lot of it that still doesn't have electricity; the Red Cross is still delivering hot meals and stuff. I hope the Phoenix will keep on rising, but one guy who lives there said: ask me in sixth months.


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