Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bourbon (Street) Blues

Well, it's real bad.

Robert and his partner Don decided they had no choice but to weather the storm from their Bourbon Street home in the Quarter. They live on the 3rd story of an old stone house. Robert, 65 years old, is currently disabled and in a wheelchair. They have 2 large dogs and a cat. The owner of the building they live in, Jack, is in his 80's and also wheelchair bound. He has a large dog as well. Brian, a doctor who lives in the former slave quarters out back, also stayed behind to take care of the less mobile guys.

I spoke with Robert on Sunday night when they'd made their decision to stay. I was hoping to change their minds, but no luck. When we talked Monday morning, it was already raining quite hard and the wind was playing with the wooden hatch to the roof, which they figured they'd lose.
I sent my love and watched the news reports.

I was unable to contact Robert all day Monday and far into Monday night. Finally at 4:00 AM my phone rang. I was deep in sleep and didn't hear the ringing, but I woke to hear a voice speaking conversationally in my apartment. This scared the crap out of me until I realized it was my answering machine and Robert was calling to let me know they'd made it through.

I ran for the machine and spoke with him at length. All their windows had blown out and everything they owned was drenched, but the 2nd floor was mostly unharmed and they were camping out in a vacant apartment with Jack and Brian. They'd had the foresight to get plenty of bottled water, candles and Power Bars. There was no electricity, but they had running water and telephone service.

Unfortunately, they had no access to news of any kind. They didn't know how bad the city was, or that the levees had been breached. They did see some looters in the neighborhood, but have been pretty much left to themselves.

I spoke with them again this morning, after hearing that the entire city is under water, and of course, there was no flooding in that part of the Quarter. Yet. Robert explained that the French Quarter was the old city, and as such was built on higher ground than the sprawl that came to be over the years.

They know nothing about martial law, or mandatory evacuation. They do know that they are glad they didn't go to the Superdome and will more than likely not travel to the Astrodome unless someone can guarantee their safety.

Meanwhile the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana have made the media rounds, alternately crying, zoning out and calling for "a day of prayer". It seems hard to believe that high-rise structures with glass curtain walls were considered safe in a hurricane prone area. It seems hard to believe that there are no apparent contingency plans, no back-up pumps, no ideas for repairing levees when they break, other than with sandbags. I suppose this is project-manager mentality, and it probably doesn't fly in the deep south.

I'm sorry that it seems like one of this country's most interesting cities will most likely disappear. When it gets re-built, IF it gets rebuilt, it will most likely be a sort of Creole deep-fried Disneyland. The poor people who had the misfortune to lose everything they had, will be displaced again, and New Orleans will become yet another participant in the mall-ification of this once great, once interesting country.

This is truly one of the major natural disasters of our time. The Gulf Coast has been decimated beyond recognition. People will re-build, but it will never be the same again.

I'm doing some research to find charities that are dealing directly with this crisis. Does anyone know of one?

My heart goes out to all who are experiencing this first-hand, and all the people trying to find out what has happened to their loved ones. My thoughts are with y'all.

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