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You Took This From Us September 15, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“These are not rich people who decided to build down there. The sea came to them.” Or as a resident on Bayou Point au Chien said as a complaint to the rest of America, “You took this from us.”

Read the rest of Schroeder excellent summary of the plight of the United Houma Nation. And please help support their recovery.

Help Haiti September 7, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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UPDATE: This post about the 2008 hurricane is getting a lot of hits after the earthquake of January 2010. I encourage you to visit this new Help Haiti post where I will add additional information on how to help Haiti.


Gonaives, Haiti after Hurricane Hanna

While we on the Hurricane Coast have suffered, imagine life in hurricane ravaged Haiti. For all of the ridiculous failures of the central government to aid the people of coastal Louisiana, our resources are enormous compared to those of either the people or government of Haiti.

Even as we reach out to help our own poorest, including the people of the United Houma Nation, please dont’ forget Haiti.

Please help the Houma September 7, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Karen Gadbois of Squandered Heritage and Matri of Matri’s VatulBlog traveled to see first hand the devestation of one of Louisiana’s most vulnerable communities, the native people of the United Houma Nation.

Please see Karen’s and Matri’s blog posts, and do what you can to help.

Red Weather September 7, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather.”
–Disillusionment of 10 O’Clock
By Wallace Stevens

The houses are not haunted, as the opening of Steven’s poem says. Our’s is not the haunting of an ancient house or a lonely crossroads. The haunting is not out there somewhere in the dark. It is somewhere in here, in the dark, inside of us.

In August and September of 2005, something died deep inside of everyone who lived in or cared about New Orleans. It was an uneasy passing, like the troubled death of a suicide or a tragic young death. Some call this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but it is not. There is no “post”, no after. We watch the pictures from Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish. We hear the stories of people abandoned, of promised aid gone awry. We see the houses collapsed or washed by the flood and we remember. The ghosts we keep trying to put away wake up and grab us by the heart.

I heard those ghosts, a low sound like a tone of voice, when the evacuees spoke of their grueling journey to safety, when they called this “their last hurricane”. I hear it in the voices of my friends in the NOLA Blogger community and my older cohort of Orleanians, the people I grew up with who sat out Betsy and sweated Camille. The rest of the country has moved on once the dramatic pictures of the floodwalls overwashed were replaced by something new. New Orleans, America thinks, has once again dodged the bullet: the city did not flood.

The floodwalls of concrete and steel held, but others did not. The chaos of evacuation, our leaders panicking on TV the night before many left; the pictures of water driven to the very top of the walls while ships and barges tore loose again in the canal; and now the chaos of the return, the stories from the towns at the end of the roads along the coast, the relief supplies promised but never delivered: all of this has breached through the scar tissue, the slow rebuilding we have all gone through deep inside. Down there, where the ghosts live, we are awash.

Homecoming should be a relief but it is not. There is too much residual anger at the politicians (we can’t call them leaders) in City Hall, in Baton Rouge and in Washington for their continuing ineptitude. There is too much damage to the east and south, and we must watch our neighbors painful re-enactment of the old story daily, perhaps for the months it will take just to restore them to some semblance of normal life. And now the weather forecasters tell us another storm is pointed at New Orleans.

We cannot know precisely what the poet meant by “red weather”. It is a perfect example of poetic language, something perfectly appropriate to the sound or stanza and to the image, and yet it is not like common language. That phrase is not a brick in the construction of a mundane paragraph. Instead those words are a door into the poem: we must find ourselves what precisely is meant by red weather to gain entry into the poetic moment.

The old saying goes both ways: red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor’s take warning. Because the sailor “Catches Tigers in red weather”, I have always taken it to stand for both danger and excitement. Now that I live beneath the red and black hurricane flags, this poem and the phrase “red weather” comes back to me. I thought of it sitting on my porch in the calm of the evening, contemplating another storm, another evacuation. And for me, at least, it became clear.

Here on the hurricane coast, when the storms stir up the ghosts of the flood, we live in red weather.

Federal Evasion Management Agency September 6, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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So, I’m listening to some FEMA spokescritter on WWL-AM try to explain the “transitional assistance” program to house people whose homes are still uninhabitable. Someone finally nailed him on FEMA’s promise earlier in the week to help pay for evacuees hotels.

The mouthpiece tried to make it sound like a regional press flack mispokes hisself to the Associated Press.

Bullshit.

Secretary Micheal Chertoff announced on CNN in primetime while 2 million people from southeast Louisiana were glued to their TVs and promised assistance with evacuation hotel costs. Period. it happened. I saw it. FEMA cannot lie it away. And the hosts at WWL are apparently too timid to corner them and nail them on this.

The lessons we relearn here are the one’s we already know. FEMA are liars. FEMA cannot be relied upon for assistance. We are on our own.

But, frankly, we already knew that.

So, just to update FEMA and C. Ray “mother of all…900 mile wild storms” Nagin, we have got the message.

Don’t leave next time. If I can get my 87-year old mother on a direct flight to Kansas City and my sisters, trust me: we won’t.

Highway To Hell: No Exit September 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Ok, I-59 during the evacuation was not precisely the Highway of Death. Still, many Louisianians were trapped in a miles-long parking lot with no way to exit: not exactly a healthy environment. If no elderly or infirm person died it was mostly a matter of luck. (Note: I went up I-55, the Highway of Shoot Me Now, Its Another Slowdown, but not quite the Highway of Death). So don’t take my word for it: read Loki’s account.

That is Odd, that exits were closed in the most congested areas, and people were not allowed to get off.

Planning my return to Toulouse Street this afternoon, I noticed this:

Lincoln, Pike County – I-55 S at the city of McComb
Last Updated on 9/3/2008 3:00:02 PM
Lanes Affected: Southbound All Lanes
Approximate Duration: 4 hours
Cause: Heavy Congestion
Additional Info: Exits in McComb will be closed intermittently due to high volumes of traffic.

So, when a Federal highway in Mississippi gets really congested the Mississippi State authorities respond by closing the exits so you can’t get off and find an alternate route. I think someone in Mississippi has some explaining to do. Are they afraid that “those people” might get off into back roads where they can’t be controlled? (This is not an exclusive problem to Mississippi. A spokesman for St. Tammany Parish all but insisted on WWL that people who arrived before the blockades were lifted without enough money or gas to go back be moved to the south shore to wait)

Also worth some investigation is Mississippi’s decision to block Louisiana residents access to I-10 East–an interstate, Federal highway–so that the people of the Gulf Coast might evacuate in the direction of the storm unimpeded. Forget Mississippi’s excuse about the Mobile Tunnel. Anyone who’s been to Destin knows that a huge mess on an average Saturday afternoon but there is an alternate route north for people approaching from the west. All they had to do is send the evac traffic up I-65.

What is happening is this: Haley Barbour and the Mississippi authorities are willing to commandeer interstate Federal highways for their own benefit. If those are the “rules” we’re going to play under, I think at the next tropical storm watch the Louisiana National Guard needs to wire the Pearl River bridges and be ready to blow them to make sure we get out first this time.*

*Note for Homeland Security Types: since the DHS probably doesn’t have the sort of high standards of education once required of the FBI, I should probably explain this particular paragraph is a figure of speech known as hyperbole, which I suspect is not on the extrance exam for DHS, and may not be taught in Mississippi public schools.** Hyperbole is an intentional exageration, and in no way indicates that I would approve of this action on undertake it myself. I would, however, unhesitantly take advantage of it were it to occur.

** Yes, that was an insult.

I’m With James O’Byrne September 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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James O’Byrne posted a signed editorial on the NOLA.COM/Times-Picayune website that has since been taking down. In it he states what many in New Orleans are feeling: that the ball of confusion of re-entry gives us one clear message.

Next time, don’t leave.

The editorial has been taken down by the Picayune, but Gambit Weekly’s Blog of New Orleans has an excerpt.

I’m with Byrne. I cannot imagine leaving under the current city, state or federal administration. They have demonstrated a level of incompetence that forces us to stand on our own.

Here’s the excerpt of Byrne’s signed editorial. Someone at the Picayune certainly wishes it would go away, but that person is apparently unfamiliar with how the Internet and blogging work.

News flash: We know it’s dangerous to live here. We accept the possibility of no gas, no power, no readily available food. We’re Katrina survivors. We’ll figure it out.

But if the enduring image of Gustav is a U.S. soldier with an M-16 denying a citizen the right to return to his home, then you can pretty much write off the next “mandatory” evacuation. Leaving your home in advance of a storm is an extraordinarily stressful, difficult, traumatic and expensive proposition. The one thing that must be honored is that people must be allowed to return to their homes as soon as humanly possible.

As a journalist, I spent the past two days driving around reporting on the storm. And by Tuesday afternoon, this city was as safe as it needed to be. Indeed, all those tree branches and debris would be picked up and stacked neatly on the curb by lunchtime on Wednesday if people had been allowed to come home.

I fully appreciate the risks of letting my family stay. But I have to weigh that risk against the alternate risks, of getting trapped in an endless evacuation traffic jam, of being stranded on a highway far from help, of not being able to return in a timely manner, to secure our property and come back to as much of a normal life as possible.

New Orleans is my home. I love it, and I choose to keep living here. But if you are a public official who wants me to leave for the next storm, then you have to hear what I am telling you. It’s time to rewrite the contract.

Update: You can read an image of the full editorial here.

Editor’s Note: Any copyrighted material presented here is done so for the purposes of news reporting and comment consistent with USC 17 Chapter 1 Title 107.

New Orleans Forever September 2, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Flotsam and Jetsam No. 2 September 2, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Best on-line source for status of SE Louisiana is http://www.wwl.com, the WWL-AM web site. There are lists of closings (parish re-entry, schools) and a link to the Louisiana State Police web site for road closings. That site shows I-10 closed to east-bound at US 51 in St. John the Baptist Parish, the I-10 Twin Spans closed as Slidell, and US 61 Closed as well. There was no mention of a closure of the Causeway, however.

The WWL-AM site reports Orleans is closed Tuesday and Wednesday (but WWL-TV and NOLA.Com reports that holders of Tier 1 certificates for reentry can get in today.

The blogger embeds are out checking areas of town. Mid-City’s own Michael Homan has power on the riverside of Carrollton, but those of us who are on the grid that powers Old Metairie, Lakeview, etc. are still out.

If we all think the peak days of the evacuation was a cluster, wait until 2 million people all try to go home on the same day. I’ve been told to expect bumper-to-bumper from Jackson, MS south. Looking at my Mississippi map for alternate routes.

Yesterday I was interviewed by ABCNews.COM Sci and Technology desk on Twitter and blogging in the storm. Gave credit to Maitri who called it months ago: Twitter would be a great tool in an evac. I returned the call from the ticket lobby of Graceland, surrounded by Louisianians making the best of a bad day, with Heartbreak Hotel pipped in: a very surreal moment. Talked up Rising Tide and NOLA Bloggers leadership of leveraging technology around emergencies. Sadly, they didn’t do a story that I saw.

Bec, Morwen, Karen, Pistolette, Michael Homan and GulfSails are still in New Orleans and those who can are updating their blogs. Others are using voice and data phone (SMS and Twitter) to send out info and stay in touch.

Flotsam and Jetsam September 1, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Here some bits of information coming back from the blogger embeds and others:

From Michael Homan in an email to our Mid-City Neighborhood Association mailing list: I walked S. Alexander to Banks Street and to Canal Street a short time ago. There are no powerlines down, no poles down, no cable/phone lines down, no roof tiles, just small oak branches. Winds have died down considerably. Very little rain. It looks very promising.

Pistolette has also kept internet Uptown, and offers a series of updates from the storm on her blog.

NOLASlate and Karen of Squandered Heritage are also embeds in the city, but both are offline. Karen has a working landlind at her friend’s house in the Riverbend section where Carrollton Meets St. Charles and called midday. Her assessment through midday would match up with Michael’s from Mid-City.

No updates from Morwen of Gentilly Girl and and Betz, but they built themselves a storm proof, elevetated bunker. They’re likely offline but they were the ones I was the least worried about, unless they came to blows over the remote.

Greg Peters of Suspect Device offers bulletins and an audio log (Stardate: 62134.8) and more from the capital of the Acadian Autonomous Region (aka Lafayette).

So far the city proper (the east bank) is fine. The West Bank, including the Algiers section of New Orleans and West Jefferson Parish are Ok after a drive through by the Times-Picayune. East Plaquemines, as I suggested last night, has water but so far it is only chest-high water. The forecast for their six-to-eight foot levees was an 18′ storm surge. The flooding at Braithwaite is to far south and east to threaten the city proper. Its too soon to tell if it could bleed up into St. Bernard Parish.

Entergy reports 101,000 customers out in their New Orleans service area, and a timeline of several days post storm just to estimate how long it will take to resume power. Now the almost 2 million people who evacuated begin to figure out how (and when) to get back home.

Follow the NOLA Bloggers on Twitter for real-time updates from the ground and the diaspora.

In spite of the dramatic splashing of water at the top of the floodwalls in the Industrial Canal, New Orleans has in fact escaped.

Godspeed Y’all August 30, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Everyone on the Hurricane Coast, and most of all my people of New Orleans: I’ll see you on the other side. We are the people who came through, the people who remember. Whatever happens, we will rise above.

Toulouse Street is strangely quiet. I haven’t seen a bird today, but as dusk approaches they are callling from the trees. About half of us are still here, but by dawn tomorrow I expect our street’s population to be one or none. (That one is not me).

Toulouse Street is singing off for now. For more Odds Bits of Life in New Orleans, you can check me out on http://www.twitter.com/wetbankguy.

More back here perhaps after we unload in Memphis and pour the frist evac drink.

Paying the Price August 27, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I think we’ve all that that feeling, the sense that we would love to live at some fantastic vacation destination. I often feel that way when I visit the ocean, a landscape I love almost as much as I love New Orleans. All we see are the beautiful views as we live the lazy life of the visitor and we think: this could go on forever. Why don’t I just move here, open a business, live this life year round?

I wonder sometimes if visitors to New Orleans have that same reaction, if they imagine themselves living in a slave quarters somewhere in the back of the Vieux Carre’, getting some tattoos and a tricked out bicycle and hanging every night on Frenchman Street. It would be a powerful temptation to a cloistered office worker with a sense of the Romantic. Just think, to be here all year: all that food, all that music, Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras.

What they don’t know is that we pay a price to live in these places, whether in New Orleans or on some bucolic bit of Florida beach. When a tropical storm with the makings of a powerful hurricane starts to drift toward the Yucatan Straits, that is when we pay the piper. First there’s worry, then a brief flash of panic. After that, it’s all on autopilot in a sort of state of shock: find a place to stay, pack up the important papers and a bag, gas up the car, start to put away and and tie down outside. Where’s the cat’s travel bag?

People who live in the city hate the term Big Easy because that’s not what life here is about. It’s never been an easy place to live except for the very young and rootless, and the storm blew away a lot of the cheap flops the bohemians once relied on. Crime, corruption, and now the interminable marathon of reconstruction. It’s anything but easy but we find the city compensates for that in other ways, some visible to the tourists and some not. That is why we find ourselves three years after the flood, anxiously watching the Gulf.

We look at Gustav circling our cousin Haiti to the south and know the reckoning is at hand, the price we pay for the life we have. No one here wants to wish a hurricane on someone else. We all know too well what that means. Still, everyone at some level wishes it so, wants to make it go away and knows that the chances are it will not just vanish.

It will be an odd anniversary, this 8-29. By Friday we will have a good idea of our fate (but storms are fickle, watch them until the last moment). Some of us may already have begun to leave. One of the last things I plan to put away is the furniture on the porch. Like some traveler on the last day of vacation, I want to savor that moment and carry it away in memory because of something we all know in New Orleans: I don’t know when I’ll be back to that place again.

That’s a burden most of America can’t imagine: fleeing their homes not knowing when they will come back. It’s a high price to pay, but in the end I know we will be back. That is why the very last thing I will do is to strike the colors, the flag of New Orleans that flies on my house every day of the year, Fourth of July and Christmas. In my head I won’t hear the mournful strains of taps, but something like the dirge march of a brass band, something like St. James Infirmary. Taking down the flag will not be a coda but an act of continuity, an affirmation of who I am. It will come with us to remind us that whatever happens and where ever we are, we are always first and foremost Orleanians. And as we have proved these last three years, we will return.

Achtung Baby! August 26, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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A few days ago I was singing the Fred Flintstone “Happy Annivesary” song (as quietly as possible, since I work in a beigeworld, the cube hell that haunts Dilbert’s nightmares.) to my wife’s voicemail. Nineteen years, thanks.

Now it is that Other annivesary. And a Happy Fucking Anniversary present is Gustave.

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