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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.

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.

Memphis August 31, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Twelve hours to Memphis. Mrs. doesn’t do highways well, much less endless bumper to bumper, so I was way over on hours behind the wheel, just cruising on coffee and trail mix from 4 am to 4 pm. Been in frantic Twitter with peeps plus watching weather sites for last couple of hours.

The 10 pm central National Hurricane Center forecast looks good for NOLA Blogger embeds. tomorrow I will roll up anything I get from them via Twitter, email or from posts of their own if they can keep power and Internet.

What didn’t look good were the storm surge forecasts for East Plaquemines. I’ve put off taking the kids down to see Stella Plantation, which a member of my family once owned as a working plantation in the early 20th century. Not sure there will be anything left.

Must sleep.

For those who can’t, here’s some music courtesy of Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. Remember, this was a song about long ago, about 1927 and the Delta lands I skirted all day on I-55.

On The Road Again August 31, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll see you in the next one. Don’t be late.

>

Shhhhh! August 30, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Don’t mention the war.

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.