Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Back Home: 8 Days in New Orleans

FEMA Trailers on UNO's Campus
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Well, here we are. It's been almost five months since Katrina hit and we're finally back home. We're staying at my mom's.

We arrived home 8 days ago and ...
  • It took less than 24 hours for my nice, clean, new (to me) car to be covered in dust and bird-shit. (At least the birds survived.)
  • It took 2 days for the container we shipped via freight line to arrive at the local terminal.
  • It took 3 days for the rest of our stuff to arrive via UPS from Charlottesville.
  • It took 4 days for my car to get a flat tire from roofing nails in the street. (People who have been here for a while will say, "Only one tire?" My brother had them in three tires after one outing in the city. Fixing flats has become a booming business at the few service stations that are operating around here.)
  • It took 5 days for me to get around to removing the boards from the few windows that were covered. It also took 5 days to hook up with my adjustor so he could scope the inside of the house for damage.
  • It took 6 days for Kenny, my favorite neighbor, to hold an impromptu get-together with a handful of other neighbors to celebrate our return, (or just as an excuse for us to drink, which is the most appropriate way for us to reconnect with the spirit of our city.)
  • It took 7 days for me to stop walking around inside and outside the house trying to figure out what to do first and just pick one thing instead of trying to do everything. (With the beautiful weather we've had, I decided to just focus on the debris and detritis outside the house for now.) It also took 7 days for me to give up on picking up pieces of broken slate tiles that had fallen from the roof to the ground on the side of my house. The biggest pieces are up now, anyway.
  • It took 8 days for me to develop the "Katrina Cough." And to get the broadband to work properly at my mother's house.
I hope that tomorrow I can say that it took only 9 days to get over my shock at the utter destruction of most of this city. But I doubt it. And I wonder how long it will take me to stop looking at the water-lines on every building, fence, car, post, and anything else that shows it, when I drive around. There's a big, dirty bathtub ring around this city and I'm frequently transfixed by it or lost in thought about what it must have been like to be in each spot when the water was at that level....it would have completely submerged the car here...it would have come up to my neck if I'd been walking in this spot...it would have been two feet over my head if I'd have been inside that house...

Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
At this point, downtown New Orleans looks pretty good. Uptown doesn't look too bad, at least in the area that escaped flooding. Even my neighborhood is coming back to life, and coming back strong, flood and wind damage notwithstanding.

But, oh, the rest of the city. My poor, poor city. The destruction is overwhelming. After five months, the most severely flooded neighborhoods still look like some scary, post-apocalyptic hell.

Picture Caption: One of my neighbors planted petunias on top of an excavated pile of dirt and concrete on the side of the street.

Student Apartments
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Nothing you see on television and no photograph comes close to conveying the scope and intensity of the destruction here. You see it in little screen-fulls on TV. But when you stand on a street in Lakeview (and I haven't even been to the worst of the worst, the Lower 9th Ward yet), and you look all around you, look in every direction, 360 degrees, it's totally un-fucking-believable. For the most part, everything is dead. The trees, the grass, the homes, the neighborhoods. Everything is broken down, blown out, brownish-gray, and lifeless.

Picture Caption: These houses are located opposite UNO's campus on St. Anthony St., and were once occupied predominantly by students.

To get to and from school every day, Alex has to pass through miles of Lakeview and some of worst flood damage in the city. His high school is on UNO's campus and, five months after the storm there is still a swamped boat on the neutral ground in front of it. The entire residential area across the street from the school is destroyed. Completely destroyed. I had friends and students who lived in those houses. I'm sure they evacuated and are okay, but I haven't been able to contact a lot of them. I'm sure most of them lost everything.

Picture Caption: The boat and Ben Franklin High School, on UNO's campus. The school had four feet of water on the ground floor, but they managed to get it open by Ben Franklin's 300th birthday on January 17th. But neither of my kids' schools has a working cafeteria, which means no hot lunchs for the kids. Alex's school serves Domino's pizzas and Rachel's school serves brown bag lunches of sandwiches, chips and warm milk- I guess it's the kind that doesn't require refrigeration. I'm not sure I'd want to try that.

My Friend Janice's House
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
There is still so much need in this city and, sadly, not a lot of help. I've got dozens of people in my neighborhood living in FEMA trailers. One of my neighbors has three trailers on her property inhabited by family members who have lost everything. I brought whatever I could from Virginia- mostly household goods, but no furniture - and I've been giving these people whatever I have that they can use. I'm giving some of the furniture from my house to friends who need it more than I do. In fact, I want to give away a lot of the things I have and can live without -and it's funny how many things you can live without when forced to do so. We learned this in Virginia. (We also learned what things we can't live without.) I have to say that it's really been nice to see how my neighborhood has pulled together to help each other.

Picture Caption: Yes, Oliver-Zaytuni, that's a picture of *our* Janice's house on Pasteur Blvd.

So we are home, but life is anything but normal. There is still so much to be done here, and it's hard to imagine it ever being finished. Katrina is old news to the rest of the world, but for so many of us here, we're still living it every day and it's a long, long way from being over.


Blogger Alley said...

We happened to catch a BBC program on tv last night that had an insert from NO prior to Katrina. The RO and I were both saying that it was such a beautiful place and that we sincerely hope that it will be one day again.

Our thoughts are with you hun! Wishing you all the strength in the world for this mammoth task.


8:07 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh Lisa, I can feel the devastation that occured not only physically in NO, but in the heart of those that lived there and have to face the destruction of a piece of thier soul (of you and your soul, but not your spirit). I have seen the strength which you have exercised during this ordeal, and know that you will draw strength from your community and together you will rebuild lives, your's included. Piece by piece, just like the clean up of your home, so will be the rest of your life in NO, piece by piece, and slowly but surely things will fit back together (though maybe not in the same way).

I have been writing letters to congress about passing rebuilding legislation, but I see I will have to work harder and perhaps around the do nothing Republican administration, and do what I can to get people locally re-interested in the rebuilding process. I wish I had the time and money to come out there and help, it is what I would want to do, but alas I have neither, so I will do what I can.

I hope you know that your online community and I love you and will supply you with good vibes and what we can, and there are people out there that don't even know you but are working towards a revitallized NO, it will happen someday, hopefully someday soon. In the mean time, I send my prayers and thoughts to you and yours and the rebuilding of your life piece by piece, which will contribute to the overall rebuilding of NO.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

I wish you much strength and love for this new phase in your life. When is it going to get better?

3:16 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks, everyone, and especially to you, Richard, for all you're doing and have done for me and my city and expecially for your friendship. I really do feel like I have a wonderful extended family here it's meant the world to me.

It's not my nature to be a pessimist, so as I look around, I try to think of all this destruction as a giant opportunity to make things better than before. Given the scale of things, it's not always easy to pull this off, and it's definitely going to be a long time. But I'll keep thinking positive thoughts and maybe my wish will come true.

3:56 AM  

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