OUR SINCEREST THANKS
Before we begin our report, we wanted to acknowledge the people who came to our aid during this most trying time -- a time when we didn't have any idea what our future would be. We would like to publicly thank these friends and fellow poster collectors - some of whom were complete strangers -- for helping us in our time of need.
Our Friends at MOPO and all our friends that emailed their concerns and prayers.
Woodward Hotel - Austin
UPDATE - 09/10/2006 - ONE YEAR POST KATRINA
August 29th marked the first anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. In many ways, it seems like only yesterday we were sitting in a hotel room in Austin wondering if we would ever go home. In other ways, it's hard to imagine what our life was like BEFORE Katrina. Many things have changed for us, both personally and in our hometown-- some are good and some are not. January 1, 2006 did not begin our year -- we're marking OUR year beginning on August 29th and it has been a year filled with more lows than highs.
The most devasting thing to happen to me and my family had nothing to do with Katrina. My sister June, my only sibling, passed away from complications of breast cancer. She had been diagnosed in 2004, and after surgery and chemotherapy, she appeared to beat it. She lived in Violet, a city in St. Bernard Parish. She lost her home during the storm and moved in with us. On October 29, while we were all living with my daughter and son-in-law, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Several weeks before that, she began having neurological problems which we first thought was associated with the stress of the aftermath of Katrina. We then began to think she had suffered a stroke, again, due to the stress of the situation. Unfortunately, it was a tumor caused by her breast cancer that had spread to her brain. After surgery, she began radiation in January. Her conditioned worsened but the doctors thought it was due to the radiation. After an MRI, it was determined that she had two more tumors: one at the base of her skull and one on her spine. We knew then it was only a matter of time. She passed away in her sleep on March 5th. While there is no medical evidence to support it, I can't help but believe that the stress of losing everything somehow expedited the spread of the cancer.
During this time, we also had to deal with getting our house repaired, putting in additional insurance claims, taking care of my sister's house and keeping LAMP going. There was no rest for the weary -- I think we just functioned on pure adrenalin -- if we stopped moving, we might not start again. (We did take some much needed time off when we attended Cinevent in May and then took a family vacation to Austin in July.)
Here is where we stand now.
We were finally able to get a "reasonable" settlement from our insurance company. We got between 60-65% of what we submitted, meaning that the remaining 35-40% came straight out of our pocket. The foundation of our home shook so hard, it cracked and created a ridge across the middle of our house. Because we live below sea level and houses routinely sink, our insurance company will not cover the damage. A few other things cropped up after we submitted our report, including a broken pipe under the foundation caused by it sinking, but this also was not covered. We had to have a large trench dug out from under our house to get to the broken pipe. This too came out of our pocket. But, considering the problems associated with the insurance claims processing, we were satisfied to get what we got. Many of our friends and family are still battling their insurance companies. My daughter just filed a lawsuit against hers.
Most of the major repairs to our home are now completed. We have a new roof (without a tree sitting on it); our back wall has been repaired; our siding has been replaced; broken windows and doors have been replaced; and the trees and debris removed from our yard. Here are a few before and after photos to show the progress.
DAMAGE FROM KATRINA
We still do not have all electricity restored -- still no electricity in the utility room (no washer and dryer) and several outlets in our den are still dead. However, an electrician is due to come out this week to fix that. Now that the outside wall of our den is repaired, we can turn our attention to the inside walls - painting and removing the old wallpaper. We also have to put down carpet. But all in all, once the electricity is fully restored, our house will be back pretty much back to it's pre-Katrina condition.
Our hometown of Gretna, LA is doing real well, under the circumstances. The Wendy's in our neighborhood just opened, and many other businesses are returning. It's still hard to get fast food after 8:00 p.m., but I guess we shouldn't be eating fast food that late anyway. We still do not have a mall. In fact, the only mall on the westbank of the river was heavily damaged and burned by looters. It was announced that it would reopen October 2007. We have to drive to the eastbank, about thirty minutes, to get to the nearest mall. My son David is an avid bowler, and has been in junior bowling leagues since he was 5 years old. Our local bowling alley still has not opened, so after a year of being off, David has joined a league in Harahan, a community in East Jefferson (again on the eastbank of the River). The good news is that the skating rink and 16-screen theater in our area are now open.
As far as New Orleans, I think the news channels have pretty well presented the condition of the city. There is still a very long way to go. The re-election of Ray Nagin as mayor was very upsetting to many of the business owners, and I know of several who have decided NOT to reopen because of him. In fact, several family friends have made the decision NOT to come back until a new mayor is elected. Since we don't live in New Orleans, we were not able to vote so DON'T BLAME US!
The Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium and the Imax Theatre are now open. The French Quarter is struggling, as tourism is really down. The summer is never a really good time for tourists, so many are hoping that the fall and winter will bring our visitors back. Unfortunately, many small shop owners may not be able to wait that long.
The areas struck the hardest are still struggling. We drove through New Orleans East recently and were shocked at how little seemed to be done. St. Bernard, once a community of 60,000, is now home to about 10% of that but they seem determine to bring their parish back. We plan to go back to Violet in the near future to check on the condition of my sister's house. We requested that it be demolished but have not heard anything. We will probably drive through the Ninth Ward on our way to Violet so we will see how far it has come. The word we get is not good, which is particularly hard on me since this is the area where I grew up.
Considering what we have been through, we are doing the best we can to return to a normal life. But if there is one good thing to come out of this, it is to appreciate your family and friends and not to put so much emphasis on things. Losing my sister was a thousand times harder on my Mom and I than ANY of the problems associated with Katrina.
UPDATE - 03/01/2006 - SIX MONTHS POST KATRINA
Well, as hard as it is to believe, it has been six months since Hurricane Katrina ravaged our area. And while progress has been made in some respects, there has been little if any change to some areas. Thankfully certain national TV stations keep us in the news on a pretty regular basis -- such as Cooper Anderson on CNN and Joe Scarborough on MSNBC. Notwithstanding the fact that we picked ourselves up long enough to have a Mardi Gras celebration, this area is far from recovered.
Our Personal Situation
Six months later and we still have a blue tarp on our roof. We still have holes in several sides of our house which Ed has had to tarp over to prevent the rain from coming in. Our den still has no carpeting, the walls are multi-color due to layers of wallpaper literally peeling off and we still do not have electricity to several areas of our home, including our den and utility room -- no washer or dryer. We spent three hours and almost $30.00 at a local laundromat this past Friday night. I've been trying to wash at my daughter's house, but the washing needs for five people become overwhelming when using other people's equipment. All of this due to the fact that we are still awaiting our insurance settlement. We've fixed what we could afford -- but the prices for roofers, carpenters and electricians have skyrocketed -- so we're just biding our time. We've been assured that we will receive our settlement within the next two weeks. Of course, this is the same thing they've been saying since December. But -- we have a home and we're able to live in it so these inconveniences are miniscule compared to the loses many of our friends and neighbors sustained.
We live in the suburb of Gretna which is on the westbank side of the Mississippi River. We had no water damage -- only wind. Our area has recovered quite nicely considering the circumstances. There are still a lot of businesses that haven't reopened, and those that have are still running limited hours. But our local 24-hour Winn Dixie now stays open to midnight -- which is wonderful news. We can now get gasoline as late as 11:00 at night. One of the downsides to this recovery though is that the number of people living here has grown. Traffic has become a real problem. Travel time now takes approximately twice as long as before Katrina -- but again, we're not complaining. Our theatre finally opened, but we're still waiting on our local bowling alley, skating rink and our shopping mall. No word on if or when these facilities will open.
Most businesses are still having problems keeping employees, particularly low end jobs. The local Rally's Hamburger fast food restaurant is offering $9.50 an hour -- and they still can't find employees. In fact, most fast food restaurants are offering a signing bonus of $250.00 a week -- for a McJob! This is due to the fact that we've lost so many apartment units -- even here in Gretna. Just about every apartment complex in our area is still closed. We are talking literally thousands of apartments not available. Until housing improves, local businesses are going to continue to struggle with labor.
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS
The City of New Orleans is still struggling. Ed and I finally took the time to go take a look at some of the more devastated areas -- particularly the Ninth Ward and East New Orleans, where I grew up. There are no words to describe the devastation -- just no words. I was left speechless - which Ed will tell you is an extremely rare occurrence. We just kept pointing to houses and shaking our heads. I thought I could handle it six months after the fact -- I couldn't. It was just so heartbreaking.
The residents of these areas are living roller coaster lives. Talks of buyout plans to rebuild come and go, and there has been no definitive plan put in place for these people to restart their lives. New flood zone plans are being released which will require many of the homeowners to elevate their homes. While in the middle to upper income areas this shouldn't pose a big problem, the residents in the Lower Ninth Ward, the poorer sections of town, will not be able to afford to elevate their homes. Some neighborhoods are taking the rebuilding into their own hands, choosing not to wait for our officials to come up with some kind of plan. But for other neighborhoods, rebuilding may never happen.
Many sections of New Orleans still do not have working traffic lights. Flooded cars and debris still litter the streets in many neighborhoods.
Here are some interesting facts:
Only an estimated 189,000 of the city's roughly 450,000 pre-Katrina residents have returned. Katrina laid waste to more than 215,000 homes. Many are abandoned, their doors wide open. FEMA has only filled 48,158 of the 90,000 trailer requests it's received from displaced families in Louisiana. 20 of 128 public schools are now open. Even with a smaller population, traffic at rush-hour is heavy. Many people living elsewhere temporarily return to the city each day to work at their jobs or to work on their homes, so the main arteries in and out of town are clogged. Add to the mix the large trucks used for the cleanup, and a commute from suburban New Orleans to the central business district that took 10 minutes before the storm can take 45 minutes now.
Of the total of 189,000 households and businesses that received electricity pre-Katrina, approximately 65,000 to 70,000 have electricity now. It was announced today that Entergy is prepared to hook up electricity connections now for the Lower Ninth Ward. The Sewerage and Water Board plans to begin delivering safe water to the area by March 15. South Central Bell has estimated that it will be able to provide telephone service to most of New Orleans by June.
Hurricane Katrina created an estimated 60.3 million cubic yards of debris in Louisiana, 25 times as much as the ruins of the World Trade Center and enough to fill the Superdome more than 13 times. Of that, only 32 million cubic yards - a bit more than half - has been removed.
As for our buildings and landmarks, here's a brief update:
Louisiana Superdome: The Louisiana Superdome is closed until September. Repairs and renovations are already underway -- thanks in part to NFL Commissioner Paul Talgliabue, who has been an ardent supporter of returning the Saints to their home and rebuilding the superdome. In fact, in addition to financial contributions to the rebuilding, the NFL is considering the Superdome as the home for the next available Superbowl. The New Orleans Saints plan to return to play the 2006 season in the city after playing home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge in 2005. This banner was a welcome sight to local Dome fans:
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center: Repairs from hurricane and its use as a refugee center expected to be finished in April. First post-hurricane event - a large jewelry and gift trade show held in New Orleans for 54 years - was staged at the center last week. The past week, part of the Convention Center was used as the home for the Krewe of Endymion's Extravaganza and mini Mardi Gras parade.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas: Remains closed, having lost most of its fish when generators failed. The Gulf and Caribbean exhibits are running again and have been restocked with fish, but the aquarium is still working to replace the rest of its collection, and officials say they hope to reopen this summer.
Audubon Zoo: Sustained only minor damage during Katrina but lost significant revenue with an ensuing absence of tourists. For now, it's open on weekends only. Zoo officials say they're hoping to return to normal hours sometime in March.
Jackson Square: One of the first places to get a thorough scrubbing and face-lift after Katrina, just before President Bush came in September to tell the nation New Orleans would be rebuilt. The square is nearly what it was before Katrina: famous Cafe Du Monde is open, musicians ply the sidewalks, tarot card readers and tour guides try to engage a shrunken pool of tourists.
Port of New Orleans: Shipping activity has reached 100 percent of pre-Katrina levels, but only the upriver portion - about 70 percent of the port's facilities - is operational.
Charity Hospital: The second-oldest continuously running public hospital in the United States, founded in 1736, sustained $258 million in damage. There are no immediate plans to reopen it. Its skeletal staff is working out of a field hospital in the convention center, which is expected to move to another temporary location in March.
New Orleans Museum of Art: Museum had little damage to its building or its works of art, but damage to the overall city from hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused it to shut its doors for six months. The museum is scheduled to reopen March 3. The museum's outdoor sculpture garden, with footpaths meandering among more than 50 sculptures, reopened in December.
Theaters: Repairs are under way at the historic Saenger Theater on Canal Street. The theater flooded, had wind damage and is expected to remain closed through 2006. Recovery at the 85-year-old Orpheum Theater in the Central Business District has been all but stagnant. Owners had no flood insurance and aren't sure how to pay for up to $2.5 million in flood damage. Damage to the city's other major theaters - the Municipal Auditorium and Mahalia Jackson theater - wasn't as severe. Those facilities are expected to be operational within the year.
Restaurants: Before the storm, metropolitan New Orleans had 3,414 restaurants that generated $2.1 billion in annual sales, according to the Louisiana Restaurant Association. They employed 53,500 directly and an additional 23,000 in support industries. Since Katrina, 37 percent of those have reopened, and about 17,000 employees have returned.
Louis Armstrong International Airport: Number of daily flights has dropped from 166 the week before Katrina to 71. Another 20 flights are expected to begin by April 3.
ST. BERNARD PARISH
Due to my sister's failing health, Ed and I have had to take over tending to her business regarding the demolition of her home. We had to drive to St. Bernard Parish to submit the paperwork -- it was our first time back in the parish. To put it succinctly -- St. Bernard Parish is a mess. It's hard to believe it's been almost six months since Katrina hit here. From the look of things, it could've been yesterday.Shopping centers and strip malls and fast food restaurants flooded during the storm, still sit empty and exposed. Windows are blown out, roofs are damaged or gone, signs are broken, parking lots are still littered with debris. Entire neighborhoods are in shambles. At least 40 percent of the 25,000 homes in the parish are unsalvageable, and all but ten of the rest are in need of significant repair.
We drove through the upscale neighborhood of Buccaneer Villa and were stunned by the apparent lack of progress with cleanup and repairs. It's a sad-looking place. My sister's neighborhood is exactly how she described it back in October -- eerie and gray - everything is gray. There were no neighbors out when we went by -- it was just a ghost town. Again -- no words come to mind -- simply imagine the aftermath of a major apocalyptic event -- and that summarizes not only St. Bernard, but certain areas of New Orleans.
MARDI GRAS - TO BE OR NOT TO BE
For months, the issue of whether or not to celebrate Mardi Gras was debated ad nauseum. Even New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin waivered on the idea - first he was for it -- then he was against it -- then he was for it again. And while that may look like a sign of weakness, it is probably how many locals felt about the situation. There really was no right or wrong answer -- it was simply a case of weighing pros and cons. From our perspective, New Orleans needed Mardi Gras for a number of reasons -- both economically and spiritually. But many people who are not as familiar with Mardi Gras may not understand the decision -- how do people party when so many are still suffering. First, the world's concept of Mardi Gras is not the same as that of the locals. For instance, to the outside world, Mardi Gras is nothing more that a wild party full of debauchery, drunkenness and flashing. This is partially true. Visitors who celebrate in the French Quarter or downtown will see this side. But there is another side of Mardi Gras-- one that has been around just as long but that never makes the news -- probably because it is just too tame.
In my 52 years, Mardi Gras has always been a time when the family got together. Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving, we knew that we would see the aunts and uncles and cousins that we didn't see on an everyday basis. We would plan a pot luck lunch, hang around my grandmother's house and then attend a parade. That type of celebration still exists today. This is why the majority of locals head to the uptown neighborhoods of New Orleans or the suburbs -- which is where we go. This is why it was so important to many locals -- it was the first chance for many familites to reunite after the storm.
Metairie, a city in East Jefferson Parish, has hosted a Mardi Gras celebration for decades. Families and friends line Veterans Boulevard hours before the parades (Argus, Elks-Jeffersonian Truck Parade and Jefferson Truck Parade -- almost 200 floats) -- carrying with them tents, blankets, barbecue pits -- the works. And not only do families get together, Mardi Gras gives us the opportunity to meet other locals and visitors who we would never meet. Our kids and grandkids get to meet new friends, each one showing off their costumes or their special catches. It is true family fun. And yes -- there are cases where some parade goers "over imbibe on the spirits." But it's more the case of that special aunt or uncle that always gets a little tipsy at the Christmas party. In the majority of cases, it is harmless and they live to regret it in the morning.
And speaking of grandkids ... here's my beautiful Granddaughter Ashley in her princess gown -- what a showoff! She LOVED the parades!
This year was an extra special celebration for us. This is the first time in years that I felt I really needed the Mardi Gras "spirit." It was also the first time that my son rode on one of the truck floats that follow the main parade. So we got up at 5:00 a.m., brought him to where the trucks were staged (in the devastated area of East New Orleans), and then went and camped out on the Boulevard. Here are a few pics:
David our son (in his stripped "Convict" shirt) and bandmate Bob get set up on their truck float.
Here's Ed watching as the parade goes by. In the background,
you can see the large "picnic" grounds. This is the real spirit of Mardi Gras.
Here are a couple of David's friends (Megan and Ashley in costume) enjoying the parade. The tent behind them was set up by a dozen international college students who came down here for their first Mardi Gras who were having a ball. It's really fun to watch someone experience their first Mardi Gras. You never know who you'll meet at a parade. That's Ed sitting in the background.
Here are some shots of the Mardi Gras crowd-- which was pretty impressive!
Hopefully, my next update will have better news. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and if you have the opportunity to contribute, there are a number of agencies who have been truly God-sent. I list a few below.
Will keep you posted.
UPDATE - 12/2/2005
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME --
EVEN IF IT'S LOOKS LIKE A DISASTER AREA
We are happy to be back in our home, even if we're sitting under a torn-up roof topped by a large blue tarp; have wallpaper peeling down all the walls; have plywood in the kitchen window where a window once was; have three large holes in our siding; have ceilings falling in in some of our bedrooms; have no carpeting (and a really ugly cement floor) in our den; and a backyard that is still covered in trees. Add in the fact that we have boxes of stuff that was once in other rooms now damaged and a storage shed (roof and floor collapsed) in every corner and crevice in our house, and you have a house in total disarray -- BUT IT'S STILL HOME! Top it off, we lost several of our personal collectible theatre standees -- one of which was the standee for the Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame which was premiered here. The standup included dolls and handpuppets. It was so large, we had no other place but the storage shed to store it. We also lost a couple hundred posters, but these were from our lower end collection.
We have spent the last few weeks playing the insurance adjuster game. We finally got an adjuster to come to our house. He explained that our claim would be handled in three parts and that he would process the first report so that we could get the major things fixed, such as the roof and the holes in our house. Well, I prepared a 50-page report with photos, receipts and estimates to help in his determination. We received his "first report" and found that about half of the "major" issues were left off -- not even discussed. We called our insurance company to confirm that this was just a "first report" -- WRONG. One report to cover it all. So, of course, we had to appeal the adjustment. Now we play the waiting came again. We have to resubmit the report and then wait some more. We figure that by next hurricane season, we will probably get our money!
We have also been playing the FEMA game. Everyone around us got a FEMA housing adjustment of $2,300 to help with out-of-pocket housing costs if you couldn't live in your home. Most of the people we know who got it WERE already in their homes while we were not able to return to ours. We were denied. First, we were told we were denied because we were self-employed. HUH? Then we were told that our insurance would cover it. Again HUH? We were told to appeal the decision. Since we are now in an "appealing" mood -- I'm ready to appeal ANYTHING.
My sister is recovering from her brain tumor surgery. She was initially paralyzed on her left size, but has been in therapy for the past three weeks and now has movement in her arm and leg. She still cannot walk. Since she lost her home in St. Bernard, she has no place to go but our house. Unfortunately, our bedrooms are upstairs, so we will have to convert our living room into a bedroom temporarily. So this is just another situation that we have to handle in the midst of this disaster.
The good news is that LAMP was unaffected and our traffic has continued to climb. This week, we will have over 50,000 visitors. We couldn't be happier with how the site, which will be 5 years old next January, has grown.
THINGS ARE NOT BACK TO NORMAL
It was just a little over three months ago that our lives, and the lives of our friends, family and neighbors in the Gulf South, changed forever. I know that Hurricane Katrina is no longer headline news and this has led many to the misconception that things are "back to normal" down here. This is FAR from the truth. Things are getting better, but the heartbreak for many continues to this day. There are still literally tens of thousands of residents who cannot return to their homes because their homes no longer exist.
For example, of the 430,000 people who lived in New Orleans pre-Katrina, estimates are that there are now about 60,000 actually "living" there. People living in the Lower Ninth Ward were able to return to their homes TODAY -- 3 months after the storm, BUT ONLY from 8 to 4 and NO STAYING there. About 40% of the city is still without utilities. One school finally opened in New Orleans - 100 students came. Orleans Parish School Board announced today that 7,500 teachers will lose their jobs.
Of the 60,000 residents in St. Bernard Parish, about 1,000 are actually residing there, with only about 20% of the utilities returned. It is still pretty much a wasteland.
The hospital situation down here is not that much better. There are still only 4 hospitals operating in the area servicing all of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes (NORMALLY there are 20 major hospitals in the metropolitan area). Many restaurants are still not open. Chains such as Wendy's, McDonalds, Ryans, etc., still have not opened most of their doors. Closed businesses are still as common as those that have opened. Our mall will NOT be open for Christmas -- the looters who burned it down saw to that. There are still no places for the teenagers to go -- no bowling alleys, skating alleys, theatres, game rooms. My son's friends are now hanging out at the game room in Boomtown's Casino -- yes the casino IS open and doing a booming business. Ed and I are having serious movie withdrawal. Two of the area theatres in East Jefferson recently opened -- but the line to get in is ridiculous. My son has tried on two occasions to see some of the latest movies (Harry Potter for one) but ALL of the shows were booked until the next day. It's now a major, all-day event to try to see a movie. The theatre near us is slated to open the end of December.
Our mail is still very slow due to the fact that the New Orleans main post office, which is located just blocks from the Superdome, has not reopened due to extensive damage. According to our local branch, this building may never reopen, as the USPS is considering moving the Main Branch just north of Kenner. All of our mail is being routed through Baton Rouge, which means if I mail a letter from Gretna to someone in Gretna, it has to go to Baton Rouge first, and then be rerouted to Gretna.
LOCAL FAVORITES RETURNING -- SLOWLY
On the bright side, there have been some very positive things within the city and the surrounding parishes. Audubon Zoo, one of the oldest and best zoos in the country, opened on the day after Thanksgiving. The first day was opened to zoo members only. Although we are long time zoo members, we were not able to make it. The zoo was forced to lay off 600 employees, so they relied on the help of volunteers to open. The administrators were hoping for a percent of the people who attended the zoo last year on the day after Thanksgiving - approximately 10,000. They were overwhelmed when 30,000 members showed up. It was so emotional for many of the visitors that "huggers" had to be placed at the doors to help deal with the outpouring of emotions. The zoo will try to open on weekends only until next year. On the down side, the Aquarium of the Americas and the Imax theatre, part of the Audubon Institute, will not be reopening until mid-summer, 2006. The insectarium, which was slated to open this past month, will not open until 2007.
The other urban park in New Orleans is called City Park. At 1,300 acres, City Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country. The first parcel of land was acquired in 1854, making it one of the country's oldest parks. It featured a beautiful botanical garden, nature trails, the Museum of Art, golf courses, amusement park, Storyland, etc. The Park hosts approximately 900,000 visitors each year -- that was before Katrina. Here is the situation now:
* 90 percent of the park was under anywhere from one to ten feet of water.
* The water that entered the park was salt water from the Gulf of Mexico. It has killed all the grass including that on three golf courses and most of the tender vegetation (The Botanical Garden) with which it came in contact.
* The Park's Administration Building was under four feet of water: archives lost, computers ruined and records soaked.
* The Park has 14,000 trees. Over 1,000 trees were toppled or extensively damaged.
* Sections of the Maintenance Building collapsed and virtually every vehicle and piece of equipment the Park owned were destroyed. That includes pickup trucks, tractors, bucket trucks, end-loaders, bush hogs, golf carts, everything.
* Before the hurricane, City Park had 260 employees - a combination of full-time, part-time and seasonal. All but 11 employees have been furloughed. Many employees who no longer have a job also lost their houses and all their belongings.
Each year, the Park sponsored a beautiful holiday lighting spectacular known as Celebration in the Oaks, including both a walking and driving tour. Due to the generous donation of the Azby Foundation, a modified Celebration in the Oaks will go on this year. The driving tour had to be eliminated due to the condition of the park, and the walking tour will be toned down. But this is an event that is one of the highlights of the Christmas Season down here, so locals are ecstatic that we will have it again this year.
This weekend, the National D-Day Museum is scheduled to open. This museum is dedicated to the memory of the men and women who served our country during World War II. It was the brainchild of the late Stephen Ambrose and was promoted by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg shortly after the release of Saving Private Ryan. We are very happy to see this great facility reopen.
Orleans and Jefferson Parishes have announced that there will be a Mardi Gras in 2006, albeit a shorter season and smaller parades. This too is great news for the locals, as Mardi Gras is as natural as breathing down here. This Mardi Gras will be different than those in the past, though, as it is primarily being put on FOR the locals. No mass out of town visitors are expected -- this time is primarily just for us.
WE'VE LOST A LOT -- BUT NOT OUR SENSE OF HUMOR
While the rest of the country is celebrating the upcoming Christmas season, we are still trying to just return to some type of normal living. We all recognize that this will not be a NORMAL Christmas, just as Thanksgiving was not NORMAL. It's hard to separate the season with the devastation, and it is being incorporated into many of the decorations in the area. Here is a display that sits outside the Boomtown Casino here in West Jefferson:
While this decoration takes on the serious side, a local Gretna artist put together a Christmas display for Lakeside Shopping Center which took a more humorous look at the situation. Here are some pics:
Since at least one out of three houses seems to have a "blue tarp" roof, the houses in his village are likewise (the popsicle sticks are a great finishing touch:
This photo depicts a rescuer hanging from a helicopter, over the display:
This next photo needs some explanation. The westbank of Jefferson Parish was not affected by the break in the levees, since the levees were those that surround Lake Pontchartrain. Our area is separated from the Lake by the Mississippi River. BUT, there were several subdivisions that got 4-6' of water due to the fact that the drainage pumps which drain the rain water off the streets were not operating. Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard ordered the staff to evacuate to the north side of the Lake, and it was days before they could get back to turn the pumps on. This is such a touchy subject down here that there are lawsuits flying and even a recall action against the Parish President. Pump operators are as important as police and fire down here, and the fact that they left their post has many flooded homeowners furious. But the "office" where the pump operators work was nothing more than a large metal shed and much too dangerous for them to stay. Of course, you would have thought that this would have been considered when they built their "office." Just to show you how things go down here, a handful of staff from the Audubon Zoo stayed during the hurricane in the Reptile House, which sustained little if any damage. I guess it's more important to protect our REPTILES than our PUMP OPERATORS!
Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to see the display in person. We were planning to go today BUT the shopping mall has pulled it because they said a few people complained that it was inappropriate and hurtful. Most of the people who saw it thought it was hilarious -- but a few found it offensive.
AND EVEN MORE YUCKS ....
Here's a photo showing representatives of various government departments ON TOP OF THINGS DOWN HERE!
Here's a new twist on old favorite that is circulating down here:
'Twas the Night Before Katrina (cajun style)
'Twas de night before Katrina, when all tru da state
Not a gas pump was pumpin', Not a store open late
All da plywood was hung, on de windows wit care,
Knowing dat a hurricane, Soon would be dere.
Da chilren were ready wit deir flashlight in hand
While rain bands from da hurricane covered over our lan
And Mom wit her Mag-lite, and me wit my cap
Has jus filled da battub for flushing our crap..
When out on de lawn, there arose such a clatter
I sprang from da closet to see what was de matter
The trees on da terrace, and de neighbor's roof torn,
We feared we'd be dyin' in dis terrible storm.
Wit a little wind gus, so lively and quick,
I membered quite clearly our ! walls was not brick
More rapid than Eagles, her courses they changed!
And she whistled and wafted and surged all the same.
Off shingles! Off sidings! Off rooftops! Off power!
Down trees! Down fences! Down trailers! Down towers!
On da street of New Orleans, she continued to maul,
Screaming Blow away! Blow away! Blow away all!
As da wind ripped and tossed da debris tru de sky,
I peeked out the shutters at the cars floatin' by.
So go to the attic my family did do,
With a portable radio and some batteries too.
And den in a twinkling, I heard on da set,
The end was not coming for a few hours yet!
As I calmed down da kids and was turning around
Tru de window it came with a huge crashing sound
A tree branch it was all covered in soo! t
De wind blew it smack-dab on top of my foot!
A bundle of twigs now lay in a stack
And my Livin' Room looked like it was under attack.
De wind how it howled, de storm very scary,
Myself and my family were all too unwary.
Da dangers of hurricanes are serious ya know,
Dey are taken for granted as Betsy did show.
Wit da winds dying down and da danger beneath,
I noticed my tool shed was missing its sheath
So I grabbed my last tarp, and nailed it on down,
Den I got in my car and drove into town.
Da traffic was awful and stores had no ice,
My 5-gallon cooler would have to suffice
Generators was scarce, not one left in town,
Dere was trees on the roads and power lines down.
FEMA was ready wit people to work,
Electrical companies came in from New York.
I sprang to da car, and gave my family a whistle,
Den away we all went like a Tomahawk missile!
You could hear us exclaim as we drove out of sight,
"The heck wit dis place, Texas seem just right!"
LEARNING TO ADAPT
In addition to keeping our senses of humor, we have also learned to adapt. We've learned quickly that we can't depend on FEMA, so many have taken matters into their own hands creating their own "FEMA trailer.":
THE BLAME GAME
Back when news organizations were trying to place the blame for this tragedy on various levels of current government, and playing the race and class cards, I warned that this was just the tip of the iceberg. I knew, based on having lived and worked for the City, that the blame would go much deeper and would cover decades. The truth is now starting to surface, and just as I said, the problems began many years ago.
Here are some excerpts from an article that appeared on one of the local news websites which begins to unravel the incompetence that lead to this devastation:
Tests confirm levee sheet pilings only driven about half as far as recommended
Government engineers performing sonar tests at the site of a major levee failure found exactly what independent investigators said they would -- that steel reinforcements barely went more than half as deep as they were supposed to, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said Wednesday."We've come up with similar results" to those from earlier tests performed by a team of Louisiana State University engineers, said Walter Baumy, the Corps' chief engineer for the New Orleans District.
Baumy said the Corps now intends to pull out pieces of the remaining wall along each edge of the breach at the 17th Street Canal to verify the results of the sonar tests. Baumy said the Corps remains unable to explain the disparity between what their 1993 design documents show was supposed to be there and what they've actually found.
The documents indicated that the steel reinforcements in the levee, known as sheet piling, went down to a depth of 17.5 feet below sea level. Sonar tests indicated the pilings went only to 10 feet below sea level, meaning the flood wall would have been much weaker than advertised.
The LSU team is working on a report for the state Department of Transportation -- due out in January -- that will say that there were serious, fundamental design and construction flaws at both the 17th Street and London Avenue canals. Both broke during Hurricane Katrina, allowing flood waters to pour into the city's western and central neighborhoods and encroach on downtown.
Much deeper steel pilings driven well below the canal bottoms likely would have stopped seepage to the dry side of the levees, engineers have said. But the bottom tip of the pilings, at 10 feet below sea level, did not even reach as deep as the canal bottoms.
Engineering studies prior to construction of the flood wall were performed by Eustis Engineering, Modjeski and Masters Inc. and the Corps. Members of van Heerden's team have expressed shock that all three could have missed what they characterized as fundamental flaws. Calls put in to Eustis and Modjeski and Masters were not returned Wednesday. However, van Heerden said the federal government bears ultimate responsibility.
"The federal government built the levees, the federal government supplied that security, the security system failed, as a consequence these 100,000 families have lost everything," van Heerden said. "In our opinion, the federal government needs to step up to the plate."
Even though as the law stands now, the U.S. Corps of Engineers cannot be held liable, a local attorney is bringing the matter to the Congress to try to change the law so that the Corps can be held responsible and compensate the families that lost their homes due to their oversight.
As times goes on, more and more of these "oversights" will come to light, rest assured. And maybe, by the time my year old granddaughter is in college, we will have all the answers. I believe it will take that long to ferret out all of the culprits.
UPDATE - 10/27/2005
It's been three weeks since the last update so I thought I would bring everyone up to date.
BIRDS, BEIGNETS AND MUSIC RETURNING
Our communities are slowly (and I mean slowly) recovering.
PreK (pre-Katrina), I would sit out in the backyard with my granddaughter Ashley and we would count the birds as they flew by. There would be literally hundreds. After Katrina, we rarely saw a bird in the sky. This past week, the birds began returning. The other day we counted over a hundred, a very positive sign that the birds (and the people) are returning.
Yum Yum - the beignets are back. This week also saw the opening of the famous New Orleans Cafe Du Monde -- beignets and cafe au lait. It was tremendously uplifting for locals to see this landmark opened and back in business. In fact, the French Quarter is really rocking -- according to what I'm hearing.
From a personal standpoint, my son David's band, A Paradox Theory, played in their first show since the hurricane. It was great to see the kids back and playing -- something that they all love. David was really having music withdrawal. Shows are starting to line up again and for the first time I think he really feels we're on the way back. Teenagers are sometimes overlooked in a disaster. You think that they're old enough to understand, but in speaking with him, it has really left a scar. The fact that his band is back playing has helped him and his bandmates adjust to the many changes we are experiencing.
In this photo, David is on the mike, Bob is playing the bass guitar and Pyro is on the guitar.
There still is no place for teenagers (or anyone for that matter) to go for entertainment. The word is that our AMC Theatre will try to reopen in December. The skating rink and bowling alley are trying to open by next spring. The Audubon Zoo is trying to open by Thanksgiving, although it will be just on weekends. There are still many businesses, including restaurants, that are not opened or are still operating at shorter hours. This is apparently due to the lack of employees. McJobs down here are starting at $8.00 an hour and some fast food chains actually offered a special "signing bonus" for new employees. But because of the limited housing, many companies just cannot find the employees they need to operate at normal hours.
While many basic services are returning, they are limited. For example, the post offices are operating but we're only getting mail once or twice a week. We never did recover any of the mail sent during the month we were away.
The Red Cross center around our corner is packing up today. I can't speak for anywhere else in the area, but this center has been tremendous. They gave out hot meals, MRE's and water EVERYDAY -- and there were lines waiting to get in. I know that the Red Cross has received some mixed reviews, but they have been a God's send both here and in Austin.
The National Guard is also still very present and they too have been local heroes. The helicopters and hummers still pass everyday, and FEMA is continuing the "blue tarp" program.
The City of New Orleans is still hurting. While most of the area residents are able to return to assess and work on their properties, many are still not staying here because utility services are still not back in many areas. This week, they are finally allowing residents of the Lower Ninth Ward to see their property. But the area is so bad, they the city is providing a bus to take the residents into the area. They can LOOK from the bus at their property but they cannot leave the bus. It is hard to imagine that much devastation.
Temporary roof repairs have begun on the Superdome. Although no official word has come out, preliminary reports are that it would be cheaper to repair the Dome than to rebuild another stadium. More assessment will have to be made, but that's a good sign for those of us who would like to see the Superdome remain.
Mardi Gras is set to role this February. In fact, my son David will be riding in one of the Jefferson Parish truck floats on Mardi Gras day. This was going to be his first time to ride, so he was really happy to hear that the parade was still going forward.
It is generally believed that the final result of this hurricane will be a dramatic decrease in the population of the city itself. The figure of 250,000, down from 450,000, is the most prevalent estimate from the experts in the area. Baton Rouge, on the other hand, has doubled, and Jefferson Parish and St. Tammany Parish are also growing. In other words, this area is predicted to experience a significant population shift, changing both the racial and economic elements of the area.
The Parish of St. Bernard is finally getting some federal aid -- but it's a case of too little too late. They are inspecting each home and determining the extent of the damage. My sister's house was deemed a complete loss, as was everyone's in the small town of Violet. My cousin lives in Arabi, and her home was also declared a total loss, as was all of her neighbors. In fact, I haven't heard of anyone's house that has not been determined a loss, so I'm not sure they're going to find anything that can be salvaged. There is still no word on what is going to happen to this community. About half of the populace want to rebuild, while the other half do not plan to return.
OUR CURRENT SITUATION
Although we have made some progress during the last few weeks, we are still having to stay with my daughter. After weeks of waiting for a contractor to come fix the back of our house so that we could repair our electrical box, Ed decided he would do it himself. So he and the electrician "temporarily" repaired the back of the house, and we now have partial electricity. Once we were able to really see in the house, we realized that we had more damage than we originally thought.
We found evidence of water damage, apparently from rain water that seeped into the house. It was just a small amount, but it damaged floors in our downstairs. We have ceramic tiles in the foyer, hall and kitchen. The tiles had many cracks, and several of them were literally broken into pieces. The carpeting in the den had to be removed because it got wet and mold started to grow. Also, one of the walls in our den is soft; if you press in, the sheetrock crumbles. We have double glass doors that lead to our yard and the entire door frame shifted. It will have to be replaced. In fact, we noticed that our entire house shifted; there were several cracks in the walls and there is a buckle in our kitchen floor that wasn't there before. We have also found mold in our bathroom and on several spots throughout the house. We also had more damage to the ceilings in the upstairs room. My son's ceiling will have to be completely replaced; my mother's room and ours can be covered.
We still have not seen our insurance adjuster. We got a call last week that we should hear from the adjuster in two weeks. Someone took the time to call us to tell us that someone would be calling us in two weeks!!!! Yeah - we were a bit confused too. We also cannot get a licensed contractor. We are told that our damages are not significant enough so we will just have to wait. Ed has decided that he will do some of the work himself. In fact, the last few days, we've been working on replacing the tiles in the foyer, hall and kitchen. I must say, it's looking pretty good. We will also tackle cleaning the mold and painting. The house smells real musky, and it was suggested that a thorough cleaning and a new paint job will help -- so that's what we're doing. Of course, we are not qualified to replace the door or the ceiling/roof.
FEMA did put a tarp on the back part of our house. Because we had a tree on the front side of the house, they wouldn't cover that end, although that's where most of the damage is. We were finally able to get the tree removed so we are now waiting for FEMA to return to put a tarp on the front end. With the tarps, we plan to just wait until things calm down before we even try to locate a roofer and a contractor.
In fact, our community has become a sea of blue roofs. I took this picture from the elevated Westbank Expressway. I took it while we were moving, but you may get an idea of what our community looks like from above:
We also got a new refrigerator delivered yesterday. We now have electricity and a refrigerator. All we need now is the gas company and the cable company (for telephones, internet and cable) to come by and connect us. The gas only needs to be turned on, but the cable and internet boxes were destroyed when the electrical box was ripped from the house so that's going to have to be replaced. But once we get these things, we plan to return home. We can live at the house while we finish the repairs and cleanup. Our goal is to return sometime next week -- assuming we can get the internet and gas back on. If there's a delay, we still may move back in but leave our computer at Sarah's house so we can continue to work on LAMP. What we've been doing is working at the house during the day, and then working on the computer at night when we get back to Sarah's.
That's about it for now. If anyone has any questions about how things are going down here, please email me. I don't want to bore anyone with the details of our recovery, but if someone is interested, I'm more than happy to share more of our experiences.
I received this in an email that has been circulating down here. I don't know who the author is, but I can assure you that they are indeed a Katrina victim. Believe me -- these are all painfully true:
You know you are a Katrina victim when:
* Your only bank deposits are marked "FEMA."
* You have lived in 3 different cities in the last month.
* You can distinguish between flood and wind damage.
* Your ear has stayed hot from your cell phone use.
* Your day is spent on hold or talking to recordings.
* You have been on vacation for 1 month and have not seen or done a damn thing.
* You respond "None" to the blanks for address, phone, or occupation on questionnaires.
* Your friends now live across the United States, and you know where each resides.
* You hug anyone who hails from New Orleans, including strangers.
* You can quote the water levels of Lakeview, Lakewood South, Uptown, 9th Ward and Metairie.
* You no longer pay electricity, water, cable or any other home-related bills.
* Your clothes all smell like Grandma's attic.
* You look for mold before using any of your possessions.
* Your email list has quadrupled in size.
* You know the rates of U-Haul and storage facilities across the south.
* You have spent hours bumper to bumper in traffic to go nowhere.
* You have gained an uncanny knowledge of government assistance programs from Red Cross to unemployment.
* Your social conversations center on the details of demolition, mold removal, and roof repair.
* You have worn the same Old Navy t-shirt for three weeks.
* You now have your hair color formula in your address book.
* You have 3 to 7 people living in an apartment smaller than the one you rented when you first married.
* Your patience is thin.
* You have cussed out anyone who does not respond to your requests.
* You are tired of hearing about the problems in the Superdome and Convention Center - you have your own problems.
* You alternate between feeling like screaming, crying, laughing uncontrollably, and jumping from the 10th floor of your Red Cross donated hotel room.
* You can no longer make logical decisions since nothing seems logical anymore.
* You realize what a great life you had with a crew of great friends.
* You realize how comfortable you were. . . . . .and you just want to be comfortable.
If you would like to continue to read about the progress in our area, you can check out these local news websites:
UPDATE - 10/06/2005
"LIFE IS WEIRD"
These were the profound words spoken by my daughter Sarah as we sat at her kitchen table the other morning. "Life is weird." I couldn't think of a better way to explain exactly what we have been going through since Hurricane Katrina struck our area in August. Our life has truly been "weird" ever since.
We knew when we returned to our home in Gretna, Louisiana, that we would not be able to live in our house due to the wind damage to our electrical box. The entire family is now camping out at Sarah and Mark's house -- there are now nine people, 4 dogs and a chinchilla occupying a four bedroom home.But we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are the lucky ones.
For those of you who have never visited the New Orleans area, I will give a brief description of the area. The "Greater New Orleans area" consists of cities within three neighboring parishes (what other states call "counties"). The City of New Orleans is in itself a parish. If you cross the Crescent City Connection bridge from downtown New Orleans, one of the first ramps off will take you to a small sliver of land on the westbank side of the Mississippi River that is part of New Orleans -- known as Algiers. The other ramp takes you immediately into Gretna, the westbank side of Jefferson Parish -- our home. We live about 10 minutes from downtown New Orleans. If you travel west you will cross the now infamous 17th Street Canal. Once over the canal, you are in Metairie, Louisiana -- a city on the eastbank side of Jefferson Parish. If you travel in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans , you will cross a small street just past Jackson Barracks and you are in Arabi, Louisiana, a town in St. Bernard Parish. You can also access St. Bernard from New Orleans East -- two of the areas with the most significant flood damage. The point of this is that ALL of the cities are so close to New Orleans that anyone not familiar with the area wouldn't know when they left one city/community and entered another. There are no divides -- one community flows directly into another. When one of these communities suffers, WE ALL SUFFER.
Now, as we explained in an earlier report, the westbank side of Jefferson Parish had wind damage but no flooding. This area is the one that ALL of greater New Orleans is counting on to bring our area back to life. We have utilities and limited services. But even being in the "lucky area," things are just NOT what they used to be. Here are a few examples.
THE REAL "SURREAL" WORLD
When we first returned, an 8:00 p.m. curfew was in effect. We left Austin early in the morning on Friday and drove all day. We reached the Jefferson Parish checkpoint at 8:05 p.m. and were promptly turned away. There we were in a small town called Boutte. We were told that we could not get into our parish until 5:00 a.m. the next morning. There were no hotel vacancies, no open restaurants and only one gas station open. We spent the night in our van in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart along with approximately 50 other families. It rained. It was hot. It was miserable. Needless to say, we were at the checkpoint promptly at 5:00 a.m.
As we drove along the highway we were stunned at the damage. Remember -- we were the lucky ones. We couldn't even imagine what it was like in the areas that were truly devastated. My son described it as "creepy" -- I can't put it any better than that. It was surreal. This is a major metropolitan area with absolutely no businesses open. We passed stores, fast food restaurants, gas stations, pet stores -- all of them were closed. It was truly a ghost town. We arrived at my daughter's house and went to bed.
After resting for several hours, the first thing we did at my daughter's house (they had not yet returned from Atlanta) was to clean out her refrigerator. Not a pleasant job. But now we had no food. just what we had brought with us from Texas. When we heard that one of the local Wal-Mart's was going to be opening in a few days, we were ecstatic -- it was some of the best news we had heard. When we got to Wal-Mart, it was 95 degrees. We stood in line for about 45 minutes waiting to get into the store. They passed out umbrellas and water in the hopes of preventing anyone from fainting. Once in, the crowds were horrendous. Shelves were bare but all the cashier's were open. We were able to pick up some things to start restocking food -- but it was an ordeal.
The 8:00 p.m. curfew was really hard to get used to. We were not allowed to even be on our front porch after 8:00 p.m. Anyone caught outside would be arrested. There was a mad scramble just before 8 to get all the dogs walked. It was like being in middle school again -- an 8:00 curfew! Fortunately, this only lasted for a week. We then moved to a midnight curfew -- we had graduated to senior high. Now -- NO CURFEW!! We're grownups again. Joking aside, we understood why the curfews were necessary and we were grateful to our local police enforcement for strictly enforcing them.. It was still really weird though -- it's been decades since I had to worry about a curfew.
The highlights of those first few days were anytime we saw a new sign go up on the neutral grounds (medians) that something new had opened. Signs for grocery stores, drug stores and fast food restaurants started showing up. These were moments of excitement -- small but significant victories. The local Breaux Mart food store opened (it's just a block away) and our reaction was just short of pandamonium. It was only open from 9:00 to 5:00, but we didn't care. We would stand in lines and wait -- just to say that we had a grocery store again. Small things like that matter to those living in a real "surreal" world.
But so many business are still not open. Let's face it, there are McDonald's and Burger Kings on every corner in a major metro area like New Orleans. Well not post-Katrina. You have to literally drive for miles and then when you find one open, their menus are limited. The words "Have It Your Way" have no meaning here. You can get a Whooper dressed standard or plain -- no middle ground here. Most of them are only operating drive-thru windows -- so we have to prepare to wait. A local Italian restaurant which normally has about 30 items on their menu offered only three -- spaghetti, pizza and lasagna. They were packed with more patrons coming as we were leaving. It didn't matter that you didn't have much of a choice -- you had SOMETHING.
This past Friday, we decided to get out the house and have dinner somewhere -- anywhere. We left the house at 6:00 p.m., drove around several restaurants that were either closed or lines were just way too long. The local Outback Steakhouse had lines as long as what you would see at Disney World. We were hoping these people were waiting for breakfast because they sure weren't going to get to eat at dinner time. This is at 6:00 p.m. -- ON FRIDAY -- IN NEW ORLEANS. We just drove around mumbling to each other in disbelief -- is this really our city? Where has everyone gone? One of the hardest things for my family to accept is the "limited times" that businesses are operating. This is New Orleans -- things just don't close here. There are 24-hour places everywhere -- that was pre-Katrina. Now, the area is pretty much closed after 6:00 p.m. Of course, in true New Orleans fashion, there ARE a number of bars open late.
I don't know about the rest of the country, but gas stations are also a premium down here. One day -- no problem. The next day -- no gas. The rule of thumb now is -- don't let the tank get below one-half and always have a 5 gallon can as a back up.
The National Guard presence is still very strong down here. In fact, my granddaughter and I sit out on their front porch in the afternoons and watch the military helicopters pass over. We wave and say hello. Everytime I see one I get the MASH theme song stuck in my head. It is now common to get behind a caravan of military Hummers. National Guard are also manning several dispensing units-- in fact one is just around the corner. They provide small tarps, water and meals -- some hot meals and some MRE's. When we come to a standstill while driving on a street -- we know one of two things is ahead -- a Red Cross or National Guard dispensing center or the drive-in for one of the few fast food restaurants opened in the area.
The other day, Sarah, Mark and Ashley went to one of the dispensing centers looking for a tarp. While Mark was in line, Sarah and Ashley walked around. One the guardsman came over to talk to them. He said that he was from California and had just returned from a tour in Iraq. He requested to come here to help. They spoke for a while and before they left, he asked to take a picture with them. He wanted to send it back home to his "folks" to show them the faces of the people he is helping. This young man was just one of THOUSANDS of heroes who are down here helping and we can't thank them enough.
So now we are living in a shell of what was once a thriving community. But please remember -- we are the ONLY GAME IN TOWN. Schools started back on Monday. My daughter's mother-in-law is a teacher at a local public middle school. Last year she averaged 30 students each class -- this year, she's averaged 10. Teachers are concerned about layoffs. Since we are the first parish in the area to open schools, we can only wonder where all the students are. It is such a sad situation. We just keeping telling ourselves -- WE'RE THE LUCKY ONES.
OUR PERSONAL SITUATION
Unfortunately, we have not made much progress as far as our house is concerned. We finally got an electrician to come to our house to fix our electrical box which was pulled from our house, as you can see from the picture. He informed us that we would have to have a carpenter repair the back of the house first -- before he can work on the electrical box. We spoke to several contractors and they have promised to get over "tomorrow." Tomorrow has yet to come.
We have a massive clean-up job inside and outside of our home. In addition to our electrical problems, we have lots of damage to our roof. We had water damage that came in from the streets. Our backdoor blew open and rain came into our den, damaging our carpet. Our refrigerators had to be trashed -- maggots are everywhere in our kitchen. This comes from 3 full refrigerators with no electricity in 95+ degree heat for over a month. Most of the trees in our yard were pulled from the roots and are now sitting in the middle of the yard. This is in addition to the tree sitting on our house.
In the picture below, our son David is standing at the halfway point of our backyard. We can't go any further back without clearing the tree branches. We cannot even see if the back fence is still standing. His trampoline is buried on the right - you can actually see one of the legs sticking up through the tree branch.
My daughter's house is about six blocks from ours. We go over, clean for about an hour or two, and then have to leave. We just can't stand the heat. We had a "cold front" come through yesterday -- the high was only 87 degrees. We are hoping to get another front through the end of the week -- it may even dip into the low 80's. That would really help as we clean.
And speaking of waiting -- no word from our adjuster. We're also still waiting for our "blue tarp" which is supposed to be installed by Fema to protect our roof until we can get a roofer. Waiting is the name of the game down here -- whether it's for insurance information, contractors, gasoline or just a plain hamburger. We're becoming really proficient at waiting.
We have set up two of our three computers at Sarah's house and are able to work -- sometimes. Although she has telephone and internet services, they go in and out on a regular basis. This is due to the large number of homes without the services and outages are daily. In fact, she hasn't had phone service for the last three days. Again -- we are asked to "wait" while repairs are made.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT REALLY HURT
It's hard to explain why certain insignificant things just really seem to hurt. For example, we have lost (maybe permanently) all of our professional sports teams. The New Orleans Saints are now splitting their home games in San Antonio and in Baton Rouge. This is particularly upsetting to fans since the team's owner, Tom Benson, has been threatening for years to move the team to San Antonio if he didn't get a new stadium. We have supported this team for almost 40 years - win or lose (mostly lose). Even when we were wearing bags on our heads, it was done with affection -- we were still paying our hard-earned money to support them. Watching this past Sunday, we were appalled at the signs saying "San Antonio Saints." Were these people heartless or did they just not think about how this would hurt the team's home fans? So many have lost everything -- we don't need it rubbed in our faces.
On the brighter side, here's our granddaughter Ashley cheering for the Saints after they made a touchdown:
The Sugar Bowl will now be played in Atlanta. The Sugar Bowl, one of our premiere events, has played in New Orleans since 1935. We are hoping this is just a temporary move, but with the uncertainty of a stadium, we just don't know. The New Orleans Hornets are now the "New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets." Our Arena Football team, the New Orleans Voodoo, will not be playing for the 2006 season. Players will now be playing for a new expansion team for at least the next year.
And as for the Superdome -- I just cannot imagine the city's skyline without it. We see it everytime we ride on the Westbank Expressway. It is a symbol -- an icon -- a part of New Orleans. I was working for the City of New Orleans in the 1970's when it was built. It sits directly behind City Hall. It was originally a parking lot -- where I parked my car everyday. (The rumor is that it was once a graveyard and that the Superdome was cursed -- an excuse as to why the Saints never won the big ones.) I literally watched it being built from the ground up. I simply cannot accept that it won't be rebuilt.
We have also lost our world class zoo and aquarium for at least two years. The Audubon Nature Institute is a family of museums and parks dedicated to nature and these parks represent great family entertainment. While the zoo did not suffer many animal losses, the Aquarium lost over 6,000 -- this is truly heartbreaking.
Also gone is our Six Flags theme park which is just a few years old. It was located in New Orleans east -- an area that suffered great flooding. Of course, it was build on swamp land -- it actually had to be built on a platform because the land would not support it. But this is New Orleans - we do what we have to do to have some entertainment!
Right now -- there are no entertainment escapes -- no movie theatres, no bowling alleys, no museums, no concerts. We have no idea when any of these will return/reopen or even if they will.
THE BIG EASY IS HAVING A REALLY HARD TIME
While speaking in front of a backdrop tauting "Bring New Orleans Back, " Mayor Ray Nagin announced that he was laying off 3,000 city workers. It is this "one step forward - two steps back" reality that keeps us in limbo as to whether we will ever see the city as it was again. The city has been reopened to most of its residents -- all but the area of the Lower Ninth Ward which still has water. About 35% of the city has electricity.
Word from friends is that some areas of New Orleans are totally devastated. Rumors are already flying about what can be done with the most damaged areas. Projections are that New Orleans could lose 200,000 people. When I worked for the City in the 1970's, the City's population was 635,000. Due to the growth of the surrounding suburbs, New Orleans proper lost over 200,000 over the past 30 years -- standing at about 435,000 at the time of Katrina. Now they're talking in terms of 250,000 population.
Of course, there is talk of a Mardi Gras but this year will be primarily for locals. It is in late February, 2006, and the general consensus is that there will be limited hotel rooms and services for tourists. But still the local Mardi Gras leaders believe that it would be a significant morale booster if the locals and some visitors could enjoy Mardi Gras - AND we heartily agree. The word is that 22 clubs have committed to roll -- albeit in a scaled down fashion. In fact, that is one of the first things I told Ed I wanted to see to make me a believer in the future of New Orleans. Without Mardi Gras - I just don't know.
But there are significant problems ahead. The leaders of our community are talking about rebuilding the levees to withstand a Category 3 hurricane and then come back and re-enforce them. Here is the report from one of our local TV stations:
Col. Lewis Setliff, the engineer overseeing the levee repairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps only has the authority to rebuild levees to the strength they were prior to the storms that damage them. The levees that broke were built to withstand Category 3 hurricanes, which have winds up to 130 mph.
Hurricane Katrina's winds were about 145 mph when the storm hit Louisiana.
Without approval from Congress, the Army engineers cannot build the levees higher and stronger. And even if Congress were to give that approval soon, it would come too late to stop work that is supposed to be finished by the time the 2006 hurricane season begins in June.
WHAT???? This is exactly the plan that was put in place in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy devastated the area. How can anything less than a Category 5 level be even considered? No people -- we have apparently not learned our lesson. Maybe our leaders are still in shock.
THE "GRAY" PARISH
My sister June lives in Violet, a city in St. Bernard Parish. Forget all that you have seen on TV, St. Bernard Parish took the hardest hit -- hands down. There were 29,000 homes in the parish -- not one has been found to be salvagable so far. In fact, the Parish School Board announced that there will be no school this year AT ALL. It is estimated that people will not be able to move back into the Parish until next year at this time -- if at all. Some believe that the entire parish of over 60,000 people will never come back. She had the chance to meet with a Fema rep yesterday at what once was her house. The first thing she noticed were the markings on her house which indicated which rescue squad had come by and kicked down her door -- searching for corpses. She had 12' of water in her single story home. Her home was declared a total loss. She has lost everything.
When I asked her how bad it looked she simply answered, "everything is gray." Mud has covered everything. There are no trees left. Grass is covered in a hardened gray mud. The only color you see as you drive down is gray. My mother described it as "a war zone -- something you would see after a bomb." Houses were moved off their foundations; large boats were lifted out of a marina and placed on the other side of the highway; trailers and cars littered the highway. One neighbor reported that they came home to find a refrigerator on TOP of their house and another found their home in a nearby canal. One house was taken off its foundation and now sits in the middle of the street where my cousin Barbara lived.
The towns of Arabi and Chalmette were hit with a double catastrophe -- a tank from one of the local gas refineries broke and leaked unrefined crude products in to the neighborhoods. Not only were these homes flooded, there is also a thick layer of oil covering the homes, trees and grass. These neighborhoods will probably be bulldozed because the leakage poses a potential toxic hazard. In fact, people are being advised to not enter their homes without some type of "haz-mat" covering.
Nothing is as it was -- and it will never be the same. The general feeling down here is that St. Bernard will never recover from this -- the only parish that is being considered a total loss. This is truly heartbreaking. I have many family members and friends who lived there. Now everyone is scattered in every direction. This parish is comprised mostly of native New Orleanians and immigrants from the Canary Islands, and was the home of the Chalmette Battlefield which contains the bodies of soldiers from all of our country's wars and marks the location where Andrew Jackson turned back the British invasion in 1815.
GETTING THINGS OFF OUR CHEST
Ed and I are working on a website that will address many of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that have been broadcast by the media. Unfortunately, it is such an emotional situation that I have difficulty rehashing a lot of it -- so much of this could have been prevented that it is truly gut-wrenching. I don't consider this a "natural" disaster -- this was "man-made" fiasco.
JUST A BAD DREAM ...
Sometimes when I wake in the morning I think for a brief moment that this has all been just a really bad dream. Then I realize that I'm laying on the floor on an air mattress in Ashley's room and reality sets in. Ed and I will have some personal and financial scars from this whole event, but it pales when it comes to the losses shared by many of my family members, friends and neighbors. Their wounds will never heal. Neighborhoods are gone -- families divided. I've said goodbye to too many friends -- those who chose not to come back here for one reason or another. So many lost their jobs as well.
No matter what the individual loss, no one down here can get away from this tragedy -- it's everywhere. We see it, hear it, feel it, smell it and taste it. It's the topic of conversation wherever you go -- most are still in disbelief. We are all going about our business with heavy hearts and with a sadness that just can't be measured. We know that we will come back -- but how much and how soon is unknown. And we have all come to one realization -- WE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.
I hope and pray that many of you will never live through a situation like this and will only know of the pain through my reports.
AND PLEASE DON'T FORGET ABOUT US -- JUST BECAUSE WE'RE NOT ON THE EVENING NEWS DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE ARE OKAY -- WE ARE NOT.
Please continue to contribute to the various organizations as you see fit. Contrary to media reports, the Red Cross and other organizations are doing a tremendous job. We heard of complaints but from what we have witnessed, they have done everything they possibly could under the circumstances -- this was a catastrophe of monumental proportion. The National Guard units from all over the country have been nothing short of PHENOMENAL.
FOR ANIMAL LOVERS
The Audubon Nature Institute is a family of museums and parks dedicated to nature. Two of their parks in particular were affected by Katrina. While the zoo lost a few animals, Hurricane Katrina dealt a significant blow to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Hurricane damage disabled much of the life support system, costing the Aquarium over 90% of the animals in their aquatic collection. A Species Survival Emergency Fund was established to help feed, house and provide veterinary care for New Orleans’ rare and endangered wildlife. For more information on how you can help, visit the Audubon Nature Institute website.
Several organizations have done a tremendous job of saving family pets and trying to reunite them with their families. If you wish to help, you can visit this site for more information at http://www.petfinder.org/disaster/. Our pets, Bruiser and Mo, would be most grateful.
OUR FIRST REPORT - 09/09/2005
As many of you probably know, we had to evacuate our home due to Hurricane Katrina. We drove for 18 hours before we found a hotel room available in Austin, Texas. The people here have been wonderful. AND SPECIAL THANKS TO LAMP dealer Kirby McDaniel of Movie Art of Austin — it has helped to have someone here in Austin we can turn to. It has been a rather hectic and heart wrenching week, as I’m sure you can understand.
You probably have seen all of the coverage about this disaster on the news. In fact, most of you are now probably experts in the layout of New Orleans, but I’d like to explain a little of the situation. We live in Gretna, Louisiana, which is located on the westbank of the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish. Jefferson Parish sits to the west and south of New Orleans. The parish is divided by the Mississippi River, which bends eastward to form a crescent around the south of New Orleans (thus the nickname Crescent City). After the river passes New Orleans, it then turns back south and flows into the Gulf. Lake Pontchartrain forms the northern border of both New Orleans and the east bank side of Jefferson Parish.
There is an elaborate system of levees and canals that keep the river and lake from flooding into the cities. The levees that broke were those that surrounded the lake – thus, New Orleans and the eastern bank of Jefferson Parish were the areas affected. We live on the westbank side of the River (we are actually “south” of the River due to the curvature but still on the “west” bank side.) The RIVER levees would have to be breached in order for our area to get flooded. Thank God this did not happen. Our levees stood find.
The eye of Hurricane Katrina passed about 10-15 miles east of us, but we are on the “weak” side of the storm. The westbank of Jefferson Parish didn’t get the flood waters, but we did have a lot of wind damage.
We had the opportunity to go home a couple of days ago to check on our house, get any needed paperwork and supplies, and then we were forced to leave again since there were no utilities available – no electricity, gas or water. Officials are telling us that we cannot return for at least 2-4 weeks. We left Austin at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning and did not return to our hotel in Austin until 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday. We were awake and on the road for 27 straight hours. When we returned on Wednesday we were exhausted. It took a whole day for us to recover.
I can’t explain how eerie it was to drive down the main street leading to our home. This normally bustling area of businesses and homes was like a ghost town. National Guardsmen were everywhere, patrolling with guns. Trees and power lines were down everywhere. I was shocked at how widespread the wind damage was. But after that first reaction, we began to realize that most of the damage was not that serious. All of the homes we passed were standing – very few seemed to have any real structural damage. Most homes had some kind of roof damage. We also saw a lot of houses damaged by trees and tree limbs along with several smashed garages and cars.
The first thing we noticed when we turned the corner of our street was that our house was standing and that there was a huge tree draped across the top. This is the third time we have had a tree damage our home. This time, it did a lot more damage. The force of the branch hitting the house caused a huge hole. Pieces of our roof were everywhere. We lost the drain pipes and the soffet and facia (please exclude the spelling) and pieces of the siding were gone. We had several areas of the first floor that had wet spots – apparently we must have had some type of street flooding. The wooden tiles in our office are buckling – evidence of water. Carpets and floors will have to be replaced.
Because of the extensive roof damage, we did have leaking in the upstairs bedrooms. We will have to replace some mattresses, but nothing that can’t be replaced was damaged.
When we opened our back door we were shocked. Our back yard looked like a bomb had gone off. We have a large yard with a half dozen medium and large trees. All of the medium sized trees were pulled from their roots and are lying across the backyard, along with the fence that they took down when they fell. The two larger trees are still standing, but they are pretty much bare. All of their limbs are now in our backyard. One of these larger tree limbs hit the electrical and cable wires and literally ripped the electrical box and the cable box from the outside wall – taking part of the wall with it. We literally have wires laying everywhere.
Even though our house looks like a war zone, we were happy to see it standing. While we have a massive cleanup job and lots of work to do to get it livable again, things could have been so much worse. Looting was rampant in our area but our neighborhood appeared to be untouched. This may be due to the fact that some of the neighbors who stayed actually armed themselves and started riding up and down the neighborhoods. There was no police protection, so they provided it themselves.
So here’s where things stand now. We will be in Austin for probably at least two more weeks. When our officials allow us to return, we will not be able to go to our house because we will have to have our electrical box repaired BEFORE electricity can be turned on at our house. My daughter lives about six blocks from us in a new home they just built (it’s only 4 months old). While they sustained roof and siding damage, their house is livable. We are planning to stay with them while we oversee the repairs that we will need to make to our home before we can move back in. We are looking at about 2 months before we can return to our home.
We are staying at a hotel in Austin that recently changed ownership and is currently being remodeled. At the time, there are no internet connections in the room. However, Ed spoke with the manager and he arranged for us to get a wireless bridge so that we can use the hotel’s internet. It is set up in our hotel room. We have two computers with us – only one can be online at a time. Ed and I will be taking turns working offline and online as things are needed.
As for LAMP, it has been operating as usual since we’ve been down. A few days ago, our transaction log became full and visitors couldn’t get into the data base. This happens on a regular basis. It takes a quick phone call to our server and the log is emptied. Unfortunately, we have had a hard time getting to computers so we were not able to monitor the system like normal. As soon as we saw the jam, we called and the matter was cleared up. Other than that, LAMP has continued like nothing happened. In fact, our stats for the past week are still running above average.
Now that we are back on line, Ed and I have a tremendous amount of catching up to do. We have been bogged down with a lot of phone calls and paperwork associated with the hurricane. Most of these have been done so we will now get back to concentrating on LAMP. Please be patient though. We will try to start inputting and putting new things on the site as soon as we can, but we have a lot of administrative details that we also have to tend to. And remember, we have two computers but only one is on line.
Ed has been working for some time on an article entitled Record Sales List, which lists all documented sales from $5,000 and up. It is currently over 1,000 titles and growing. Ed plans to put it on line today. You can get to the article by going to our home page. At least this will show our visitors that WE ARE BACK and WE ARE WORKING.
The people here in Austin have been great. We did have one incident here at the hotel. The back window of our van was broken and two items were stolen. One was my son’s guitar amp. He worked all last summer to pay for it. The second – and this is the real heartbreaker – they stole a bag that I had that contained all our home movies. The tapes were of our kids’ birthday parties; gym meets; baseball games; family vacations – 20+ years of memories. I’m still angry and hurt that someone would do this to us – but Ed keeps reminding me that the family is safe and we will make new memories. But I’d still like to get my hands on the SOB’s who took them.
And while I’m venting – the people at MCI communications are horrible! My daughter and her family left a day earlier to go stay with my son-in-law’s relatives in Atlanta. By the time we made the decision to leave, we were told to go west. My daughter was concerned and asked that I check in with her when we arrived somewhere – since we didn’t even have a destination when we left. I made two telephone calls to Atlanta using the hotel telephone and charging it to Paypal – MCI charged our card $99.00 for TWO PHONE CALLS. When we called their office and questioned the call – they told us it would take weeks before they would investigate it. We explained that we were evacuees and that we were living off this card. They were extremely rude – especially the supervisor named Val. This woman was heartless. She told us too bad but there’s nothing she could do. Of course I plan to take this up with Paypal – but please, give us a break. This is just another thing we have to deal with. So – if anyone is considering doing business with MCI in the future – DON’T. This is the most heartless and cruel company I have ever had the distaste to deal with – no sympathy, no respect, no help. They’re nothing but leeches.
VENT OVER ….
All in all, this has been a heart-wrenching experience. It is heartbreaking for me to see what is happening to New Orleans. I was born there; went to school there; went to college there; met Ed there in the French Quarter; married there; had my children there. Ed and I bought our first movie poster there in the French Market – a half sheet of Gidget. We were dating at the time. We saw it at the flea market and when I told him that was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up, he bought it for me. And that was the beginning of our movie poster passion.
But rest assured – WE WILL COME BACK. When Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans on September 9, 1965 (I was 2 months shy of my 13th birthday), levees broke and flooded many of the same areas that are flooded today. To this date, Betsy had been our big one – the eye passed directly over us but it was just a Category 3. We went for weeks without power and many people said the same things being said today – will New Orleans ever recover. History shows that it came back stronger. That’s when newer levee systems were installed and city officials started looking at how to prevent this in the future. Unfortunately, their short-sightedness was that they built the levees to withstand another Cat 3 storm – they never took into consideration anything worse. I think they just never imagined that it could be any worse. We are an odd lot – and we just don’t give up.
I want to thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers and support. We want to particularly thank LAMP dealers Sue Heim of Hollywood Poster Frames and Bruce Hershenson of emovieposter for their initiative in trying to provide us with assistance. You will never realize just how much that helped – on so many levels. Things looked really bleak there for a little while – and our LAMP dealers and many fellow poster collectors and dealers came through for us. We will forever be appreciative.
We know we have a monumental task in front of us but we are grateful that our family is safe and we have a home. Many of our friends and neighbors were not so lucky. My sister lives in St. Bernard Parish – she has lost everything. Of course, she will be living with us so she knows she has family.
Many things have come out lately in the media – some of it just so wrong. These people don’t have a clue but yet they make bold statements like they’re experts. I plan to write an article about my feelings about this whole incident. Living here for 51 years has made me more of an expert than these news guys. They’re simply after a story. As soon as I get my thoughts together, I will let you know in case you would like to hear someone from within’s opinion.
Again – we want to thank everyone for their kindness and support.