Thursday, November 3, 2005

Katrina's wake/packing up

I just got Blackberry coverage here in New Orleans, so I can blog a little. I'm in our old house, packing up. I've finished 25 boxes, and that's just about half of the books! I wish we would have gone to the library more.

Yesterday I landed at MSY airport at about 10 AM. I had left my car in the parking lot, so the bill was $670 dollars, but the airport waived all costs incurred after Hurricane Katrina, so I only paid $10! God bless Louis Armstrong International Airport.

I found that a ready way to strike up a conversation here was to ask how people's families had fared in the Hurricane. I've heard a little of everything. One fellow was just quiet for a while, then said, "Bad. We lost everything." Others were living with friends, or had managed to clean up the upper floor of a two story enough to live there. Some were sleeping at work. And some were like me: no damage at all, just a lot of hustling to get things back together.

I had lunch with my coworkers from East Jefferson General Hospital yesterday, since it's on the way back from the airport. It was nice to see them. Everyone had evacuated. One was living with a friend because his house was flooded, but the other three were in their houses. I didn't realize how much I had missed them until I saw them. They're a good bunch of guys. Life goes on at the hospital without me.

I was reunited with my computer manuals (you don't really know how well you program until you have no reference materials!) I said goodby and drove towards New Orleans.

One of the guys suggested that I drive through Lakeview on the way home. In Metairie, I saw some roof damage and garbage on the streets, but Lakeview was horrible. I drove down one block where I was the only living creature on the street. There was a pile of garbage at least 20 feet high occupying the entire median. Everything was uniformly grey-brown, the color of dust. Trucks and cars were abandoned in the middle of the street, no one able to move them inover 60 days. I saw a house with a waterline just under the roof-- then I looked around and saw the same waterline on every house, every light pole, every abandoned vehicle, about 9 feet up. It must have been hell.

I drove back through the French Quarter, the part of New Orleans that people most associate with New Orleans. It had not been so badly damaged, but there were a lot of houses that were completely destroyed, or had the roof caved in. There was a fine dust everywhere. It felt like a ghost town, or maybe an old mining town. It seemed like most of the people I saw were from out of town: carpenters, FEMA inspectors, Acupuncturists without Borders volunteers offering their services for free. There were also several large makeshift campgrounds set up, tent cities for the unexpectedly homeless.

I drove on to Algier's Point, our neighborhood. By this time I was delirious from sleep-deprivation (I had been awake since 2 AM central time) and was having trouble negotiating traffic. People drive terribly here anyway, but people are all driving around like zombies, distracted as I was. I passed a bad accident just past the Fisher housing project. The projects themselves were empty. I wonder where all those people went.

I drove down our old street and parked in front of our house. How very strange to see it. It was as we had left it-- no damage at all. The DirecTV dish was still on the roof. The palm tree in front was perfectly fine. Our garbage cans were where we left them. It was a bizarre contrast to the total destruction I had seen in Lakeview.

I caught a quick nap and started packing boxes.

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