Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina Encours et Toujours IV

Here's yet another posting on Katrina's aftermath. Minimal editorializing on my part this time, but I have a lot of interesting accounts to post below:

1) This is an eyewitness account of Katrina's aftermath by an anonymous friend who stayed through the storm at the Monteleone Hotel in downtown New Orleans, and then drove out of town on the 3rd day:

As many of the recipients of this e-mail know, C and I decided to ride out the storm at the Monteleone. We stayed on the 9th floor in a room with no windows. The Monteleone weathered the storm quite well, but the windows in the roof fitness center were blown out. We were set to leave on the day after the storm until we found out that the parking garage uses an electric elevator to move the cars. Needless to say, we have a car parked on the upper floors of the Monteleone until further notice. Having no way to get out and with a fairly enjoyable situation, we walked around town and took pictures (I hope to upload the pictures this evening when I get access to a high speed connection this evening).

At that point it was a typical post hurricane day. The Alpine bar on Chartres was open and serving drinks by candle light. We got bored and decided to walk through the Marigny and Bywater to F's house to see how it faired. There were a lot of tree limbs down and some damage in that area, but very few building failures. The first few streets next to the levee are high and dry. F's house was undamaged with the exception of the back gate that blew down. With the help of F's neighbor E, we got the gate nailed back into place. At this point it was getting close to evening, and we quickly made our way back to town with the optimistic feeling that power might be restored quickly and that we could leave in our own car which has a full tank of gas.

The next morning brought a complete change. The water began to rise and people began to do a little "shopping" on Canal Street. We realized that it might be a problem when a NOPD officer walked past a group of young shoppers and jokingly asked, "Do you have a size 12?" The closest thing we say to any enforcement action against looters occurred when two NOPD officers grabbed a couple of preteen shoppers and slapped the shit out of them before sending them on their way. When we realized that many of the shoppers were staying with us for free in the Monteleone as friends and family of staff, my wife decided that it was time to get out (and thank God she did).

We noticed on our previous trip to Bywater that F had left his truck at his house. Due to the vagaries of cellphones we got a message relayed to F through C's brother in Florida. Through D, we found out that there were keys in F's house, so we started walking to do a little "shopping" of our own. When we reached F's the water had risen somewhat, but D Street for several blocks toward St. Claude continued to be high and dry. It will take several more feet of water in Bywater before F's house will have water in the street out front, much less in the house. After liberating F's extra keys and nailing a board across the broken window. We went back to the Monteleone and packed up.

We then made our way across the Crescent City Connection to my parents' house on the Westbank. Other than a lot of tree limbs down, the westbank of Orleans Parish faired very well. None of the houses owned by the three Westbank members of the family suffered any damage other than a few missing shingles. We made camp at my parents house for the night. I had a pure redneck moment sitting on my parents' front porch drinking a still cold beer from my parent's rapidly warming fridge and holding a loaded shotgun in case any shoppers were about in their neighborhood. Fortunately, they must still be too busy with the Wal-Mart and the grocery stores to bother with houses.

After a hot, sleepless night, we barricaded the doors, emptied the fringe and headed out town. Despite that asshole Aaron Broussard's pronouncement that we would be shot on sight if we entered Jefferson Parish, we decided to chance a trip to Metairie to check on the little blue house on Johnson St. Passing through the westbank of Jefferson we saw the typical trees down and occasional bit of significant damage, but everything was dry and I did not see the type of catastrophic damage that was being discussed in the media.

I was even more perplexed when we were allowed to cross the Huey P. Long into Elmwood and the road was high and dry (for those who don't know, if two kids spill their cokes as the leave the Palace Theatre, Elmwood floods). We then made out way to Johnson St. dodging downed trees to discover that no only was the blue house standing, it was high and dry (the street had barely flooded), the only damage was some missing shingles (my recommendation is to buy John Mansville stock or stock in your favorite shingle manufacturer). A

fter packing a few items including the pistol that would have brought significant comfort on our walks if I had not stupidly left it at home, we talked to our neighbors across the street who had returned and were keeping an eye on the neighborhood (the had a generator to make the stay more pleasant). I also spoke with my next door neighbor who said there had been gunshots in the neighborhood the night before. It turns out that two roving bands of vigilantes happened upon each other during the night and each mistook the other group for shoppers and decided to shoot first and ask questions later. I guess shoppers a treated a little differently in Jefferson.

Feeling that my house was in good hands and fearing the odd stray bullet, we took off down Airline. Once again, I was surprised at the lack of catastrophic damage. The streets are dry. Some dodging and backtracking is required to get around downed trees, but except for an unfortunate few that we saw, people will be greeted by a cleanup job instead of a major repairs.

A truly stirring site was the hundreds of boats on trailers being driven along Airline from not only the local area but also all around the state and even out of state in response to Harry Lee's call for help in the form of boats. These were ordinary guys rushing to help in any way they could. I guess that's what makes me so mad hearing that complete asshole Broussard spin his gloom and doom. He claims he won't let us back in because of the downed trees and it will take his precious Jefferson Parish crews weeks to clear all the streets. Guess what Aaron, the people of this city do not need to wait for the government to fix every single problem. We can help fix the problems with our city.

For example, when I got to Johnson Street, my block had already been cleaned up by the guys across the street. I'm sure they would have cleared more except that they didn't want to make it easy for the shoppers. I did the same thing in the area in front of my parents' so the house would look like someone might be there. I could have easily cleaned the entire street if not for fear of easing the path for possible shoppers. They keep telling us that business won't be able to open for months and only with help from the government. I guess some forgot to tell that to Mike Serio who was feeding police officers in his restaurant on St. Charles in the CBD after the storm. I'm sure many more like him will do the same as soon as it is safe.

I was happy beyond words to see so many houses of my friends and family still standing and seeing so much of the greater New Orleans area not touched by catastrophe while tempered with heartbreak for my friends who I know lost everything. I guess I learned one thing through this ordeal is to take heart if you love New Orleans. While the pictures of the flooding and looting make great television, there is a large section of town that has not been touched by flood and the people that will rebuild are not the ones looking for free shoes but the ones volunteering their boats and cleaning up their own damn street. Let's hope that many of the shoppers get forcefully evacuated to the Astrodome, new shoes and all.

If I can do anything for anyone, please let me know. Know that all of you are in my thoughts especially those who I know suffered the full force of the storm and the aftermath. We are in Baton Rouge for now with a FEMA provided hotel room secured by my parents. C and I may take a trip or two around the country before it is convenient to go back home. Lastly, F thank you for the use of the truck and the ticket out of Thunderdome.




2) Here's your connection between global warming andKatrina, posted on Friday afternoon. When a friend sent it to me at the time, I noted it but didn't think too much of it yet. Now it seems ominous (if the link doesn't work, ask me and I'll send it as an attachment):

"this is kinda intersting - 'specially if your down inFla.

I posted the map that showed the warm watercirculation in the Gulf of Mexico last year and warnedabout Hurricane Ivan. Now we have Hurricane Katrinaslip-sliding into the Gulf. As a category 1 hurricane,Florida residents did not take it very seriously. Mycondolences to the families of the 4 people killed inFlorida. The news media let you down by not warning ofthe danger. Seems they were too focused on spin, spin,spin, too bad.

Well, here is my warning, once again that the GulfCoast will get struck by a nasty hurricane. Postedbelow, a satellite map of the new warm water loopcurrent and eddy now in the Gulf of Mexico. Iguarantee that this will make Hurricane Katrina acategory 3, that?s right --- Katrina will be upgradedfrom category 1 to at least a category 3. It wouldn?teven surprise me that it could go as high as acategory 5, but I have been out to this current andcategory 3 seems the most likely. This will surprisemost of the weather forecasters on TV, because likemost things they have no clue as to what they read offof the Teleprompter means.

Here?s the map, if I lived in New Orleans, I would beleaving soon?.

Best to all along the Gulf Coast, move out ofKatrina's path and pray.

[Due to technical difficulties, I can't post it, but it's a map of Gulf temperatures prior to Katrina's arrival in the Gulf last week]



3) Well, now at least we know who to blame for Katrina! Apparently it was Southern Decadence's fault all along. I've seen these folks protest at Mardi Gras, and watched New Orleans' finest protect them from a drunken lynching by the fine citizens of the Quarter. I'm with the fine citizens on this one:
http://www.365gay.com/newscon05/08/083105nola.htm

Gays 'Responsible' For New Orleans Devastation Group Claims by Fidel Ortega 365Gay.com Miami Bureau
Posted: August 31, 2005 3:00 pm ET

(New Orleans, Louisiana) An evangelical Christian group that regularly demonstrates at LGBT events is blaming gays for hurricane Katrina.

Repent America says that God "destroyed" New Orleans because of Southern Decadence, the gay festival that was to have taken place in the city over the Labor Day weekend.

"Southern Decadence" has a history of filling the French Quarters section of the city with drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars" Repent America director Michael Marcavage said in a statement Wednesday.

"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city." Marcavage said. "From ‘Girls Gone Wild’ to ‘Southern Decadence’, New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same."

"Let us pray for those ravaged by this disaster. However, we must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," Marcavage said.

"May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," Marcavage concluded.

As 365Gay.com reported on Tuesday, organizers for Southern Decadence have cancelled the event and are promising full ticket refunds. (story)

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday that hundreds are known dead and the death toll will reach into the thousands. Some estimates, CNN reported, indicate the final death toll in New Orleans alone may top 100,000.

Water levels eased off slightly on Wednesday, but most of the city remains submerged and it is believed it could be months before the city is inhabitable.

Repent America most recently demonstrated at the Philadelphia Phillies tribute to gay fans earlier this month. (story)

Last year 10 members of Repent America marched to an area near the front of a stage at Philadelphia's Outfest and began to yell Biblical passages.

Police attempted to get the protestors to move to to an area on the edge of the Outfest site. Instead they went deeper into the gay crowd. Using a bullhorn they condemned homosexuality. They then got into an argument with a group of Pink Angels, who screamed back.

It was at that point police intervened.

Four members of Repent America, including Marcavage, were charged with ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy and inciting to riot. The charges carry sentences up to 47 years behind bars. But, in court, a judge dismissed the charges saying the protestors were in a public park and police had violated the group's First Amendment right to free speech. (story)

Marcavage has been arrested, detained or cited by police around the country since founding Repent America in 2002, including at a demonstration against same-sex marriages in San Francisco.



4) This message is a reaction to what I said earlier about FEMA and OSHA bulldozing entire neighborhoods to "redevelop" New Orleans, in this case concerning a Houston suburb after a tropical storm flooding:


"FEMA the bulldozer...that is exactly what happened to my parents' neighborhood. It is now not even a green space but awaiting redevelopment. Lack of zoning... ok, Houston is known for it's erratic expansion, residential next to commercial. My dad was part of the Flood Control project back in the 70s, spoke in the US House in support of a bill for the expansion of bayous and the increase of retention ponds. Now after more than 20 years and the bulldozing of Arbor Oaks, the corps of engineers has finally built those retention ponds!
Beware of FEMA! I do mourn the loss of NO! When's the dirge?"

Carole Woodall

5) New Orleans flood damage map, courtesy of NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/national/2005_HURRICANEKATRINA_GRAPHIC/index.html



6) This link is to both of Chris Wiseman's BBC interviews, namely the first and third interviews on the screen. Chris did well, give them a listen:

http://www.podcastingnews.com/details/downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/downloadtrial/radio4/today/rss.xml/view.htm



7) Check http://www.wonkette.com/ for the difference between "looting" and "finding"...



8) Dailykos.com posting concerning federal policies and their connection with this natural disaster:

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT . . .By Rena RF

Dear Mr. President,

Like most Americans, I am watching the horror unfold in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Also like many Americans, I have felt a deep and strong pull to respond in any small way that I can. For me, it has been through fundraising and through getting the word out as to how people, good American people, can respond and lend even a small hand in helping deal with such a great tragedy.

The tragedy itself, though, says a great deal not only about the generous spirit of Americans but about you on two critical levels. The first would be on a leadership level, and the second would be on a human level.
They say that the measure of a great leader is gauged not by how he handles the 90 percent of events that are anticipated and expected, but by how he responds to the 10 percent that is utterly unforeseeable. Hurricane Katrina would fall into that rare, unforeseeable category - and your actions before, during, and now after this event are very telling of your leadership.

The devastation that continues to unfold and worsen in the hurricane's aftermath put me in mind of other disasters, man-made and otherwise. Most specifically, the specter of 9/11 came before me very clearly. The relief that poured in to New York City and northern Virginia following that tragic day were unprecedented. Events seemed to overwhelm reality and relief was poured into the areas affected. People knew where they could go for help. The infrastructure was in place to accommodate even the unforeseen. Frankly, I consider it nothing short of a miracle that things worked the way they did on 9/11. We were very lucky in that regard.
The relief coordination around Katrina has been abysmal. People don't know where to go. They don't know what to do. They have no information. No one can seem to agree on how to handle staunching the flow of water into New Orleans. The military is scrambling to assemble its assets effectively to provide the most basic of medical and sustenance needs. Don't mistake my tone - I have the greatest respect for the individuals who are risking their lives and safety to save the lives and secure the well being of survivors - but they are fighting an uphill battle because the coordination is simply criminal. The lives that will be saved in the coming days will be saved through the sheer power of human compassion carried by the individuals on the scene. The lives that could have been saved, yet will be lost, will be the price of terrible coordination. I lay that responsibility squarely at your feet.

Let me extrapolate somewhat and tell you that Katrina could have been any domestic disaster. The levees of New Orleans could have been compromised by a terrorist attack. A coordinated terrorist attack could have gone off in the Gulf region, yielding devastation on par with what Katrina wrought. Refineries and chemical plants in the region could have been attacked through terrorist methods. The list of possibilities is endless.
So I ask you - how is it that, in post-9/11 America, we are failing so completely to render aid and comfort? How is it that today, this last day of August 2005, nearly four years after 9/11, we have no cohesive plan to deal with the region's refugees, the potentially one million American citizens without work or a home or basic care? That speaks directly to your leadership, sir, and it doesn't speak well for it at all.

The decisions that you have made in your capacity as President and leader of the United States of America have real human costs and implications. The decision to go to war in Iraq has directly affected the response to this disaster in overt and subtle ways. The deployment of Guardsmen in Iraq has left the affected states with fewer resources at a time when they need them the most. The decision to go to war in Iraq and the lack of planning to deal with the aftermath of the war has directly affected the stability of oil prices, which in turn affects every American. A disaster such as Katrina further strains a system that, through bad policy, is already too volatile to accommodate additional trauma. The decision to institute tax cuts at a time when we, as a nation, should be planning for the worst-case scenarios of unexpected events has left cities and states and regions without the resources they need to effectively plan for and respond to disasters of any variety.

A certain component of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina was unavoidable. But there is also a component that better leadership and some degree of forward-thinking would have prevented. Those deaths and tragedies should be laid at the foot of your short-sightedness and bad leadership. You should have to look at it. Perhaps it will be a reminder and you will act to prevent such things in the future.

I told you that I thought that this disaster said something about you on two levels and the second one is on a personal level. Your voice has been remarkably absent as the horror in the Gulf region has unfolded. Press clippings have shown you going about your planned events. You have given lip service to the devastation at certain points, but your actions speak louder than any words you can utter. A human response to this would have been to curtail matters of personal policy (stumping for support for the war in Iraq; the ghastly comparison of World War II with the war in Iraq; your baffling decision to do a photo opportunity with the Presidential guitar) and show an appropriate amount of respect for the lives being lost even as you plucked the strings.

Average Americans like me - who work for a living every day in this country - who don't have the luxury of a month-long vacation - took what little free time and disposable income we have and sprung into action. We raised money. We spread the word. We assembled information on what was needed and by whom and the best way to get it there. We felt - we watched our televisions and we cried at the tragedy we saw before us. Our response was so quintessentially human that your lack of it makes me wonder if we belong to the same human race.

So I'll leave you with this. A word image. You're in the dark, Mr. President. You can feel something pressing against the crown of your head - it's the roof of your attic. You're in water up to your neck. The water is filthy - you're surrounded by it - it's stiflingly hot in the little airspace you occupy. You're hungry and have nothing to eat. You're thirsty, dangerously dehydrated but you can't drink the very thing which may claim your life. Below you is everything you had. All your possessions - underwater. You don't know where your wife and children are and if they survived. You pray, Mr. President. Every time you hear what sounds like a boat or a helicopter you pray that someone will sense that you are under that roof needing help. You're too weak and too constrained by the space you occupy to signal for help. You have to wait, and as you wait, the water rises. If you're lucky, someone will find you. If you aren't, you'll die that slow, horrifying and frightening death.

Alone.

Feel like playing us a tune now?

Respectfully, Rena RF



9) This is off of the Daily Kos website -- and it shows why you should think Bush when you think Katrina:
www.dailykos.com

Category 4 Hurricane Determined To Strike U.S. by Hunter Wed Aug 31st, 2005 at 17:58:43 PDT
By now almost everyone has seen this; if you haven't, you need to read it in full. Will Bunch, via Editor & Publisher:

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA [Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project] dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: "No one can say they didn't see it coming. ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune:

"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."

The panel authorized that money, and on July 1, 2004, it had to pony up another $250,000 when it learned that stretches of the levee in Metairie had sunk by four feet. The agency had to pay for the work with higher property taxes. The levee board noted in October 2004 that the feds were also now not paying for a hoped-for $15 million project to better shore up the banks of Lake Pontchartrain.

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.

(Sidney Blumenthal fleshes out a few other aspects of the history in this Salon piece, including Bush-administration-cancelled wetlands restoration and protections in the area that were designed to mitigate such disasters by providing buffer zones for storm surge and flooding.)

A lot of people are going to huff and bluster about making this disaster a political issue. Put bluntly, however, what government does and does not choose to spend money on for the essential safety of its citizens is a political issue, and a very basic one at that. The administration willfully reduced the budget for the protective levees around New Orleans to a level where even maintaining the current levee height was impossible, in order to shift that Corps money into Iraq. I'd say that's a political big deal.

Pouring guns and gold into Iraq while ignoring basic aspects of America's own domestic safety was a risk that the Bush administration was willing to take. Now the neo-cons of the administration and their tubthumping supporters have a vivid demonstration of why pumping money into Iraq combined with deficit-causing tax cuts combined with cutting basic domestic safety programs has results a bit more sanguinary than the careful spreadsheets of either Karl Rove or Grover Norquist might convey.

After 9/11, the administration was eager to put Bush at the top of the "pile", a cheap show of determination in the aftermath of disaster. Somehow, I don't think Bush standing atop one of these shattered levees and speaking through a bullhorn to the citizens of New Orleans would have the same effect right now.



10) Here's a Guardian article on New Orleans:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1560333,00.html

Thousands feared lost in US storm

· New Orleans to be abandoned
· Threat of looting and disease

Julian Borger in New Orleans and Duncan CampbellThursday September 1, 2005The Guardian
The death toll from Hurricane Katrina could rise into the thousands in New Orleans alone, the city authorities believe, in what President Bush described as "one of the worst national disasters in our nation's history."...

Comments:
I found your diary when I Googled Aaron Broussard's name. I wanted to know more about him after seeing him on Meet The Press today. I am happy for you that your home was spared, but was a bit surprised at your harsh assessment of Broussard. Did you see his appearance on Meet The Press? Do you still think he is an asshole?
Just wondering.
 
That was a posting by a friend not me. While I think JP has done a fine job with recovery, I also don't agree that everyone should be kept out of the parish, after what I saw visiting the parish today.
 
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