No matter which way your eyes wandered, in any direction and for any distance, you saw significant damage.
That is the best way to describe what I saw as we re-entered New Orleans this morning at around 9:30 AM. Cary and I left Racine about 11 AM on October 1, 2005. We stopped at the Jeep dealership briefly for them to fix something they neglected to fix the day before, then headed to St. Louis where we met up with Barry and Tom West. Barry was brought to St. Louis by Lee, on whose property he had been staying. Tom arrived by bus from his parent's farm in Oklahoma.
We started seeing the effects of Katrina as far north as Jackson, MS thinner trees bent over or broken, signs with damage or blown down, etc. As we proceeded south on I-55 the damage became increasingly worse. We stopped at Keith Davis' house around 8 AM, where he gave us cinnamon rolls and coffee as well as 4 cases of water he had purchased for us two weeks ago, when we first thought we were returning. He filled us in on the latest news, the most important part of which was that the area was not experiencing the traffic jams they had expected as people returned to the city. As we would later learn from watching the news in New Orleans, people are not returning in the numbers originally anticipated.
South of Keith's house in Ponchatoula, I-55 travels between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas. It was 32 days since the storm had bulldozed its way through the area, and the amount of water still left in the area was immense. Take a look at the first two before and after pictures to see how much land was lost in this area. Since this area was on the west side of the storm, it did not see the severity of damage we would find elsewhere. Nonetheless, not a single building in the tiny fishing village of Manchac was left untouched, mostly with damage to roofs, although the rising water level did damage some of the homes that were closer to the shore.
As we headed east on I-10 we saw the damage get progressively worse. At first, the most noticeable difference was how much water there was in an area that did not have much before the storm. The Bonne Carre Spillway was now part of Lake Pontchartrain up to the railroad tressle, and perhaps beyond. There was one lone house that sat on the east side of the spillway, between the interstate and railroad tracks. It was always the first to greet us as we entered the New Orleans area. It had been blown completely off its foundation and was now tilted, partially mired in the swamp. It foretold much of the damage we were about to see.
Many of the taller trees that rose from the swamp on either side of the interstate had all the bark stripped from them. They stood now as naked sentinals over those returning to the area. Once past the I-310 intersection we entered Kenner, the western-most suburb of New Orleans. Most billboards either had pieces missing, or their content was stripped or washed away. Buildings, especially taller ones, had windows blown out or pieces of their facades missing. You could tell from which way the wind was blowing by where the damage was on the taller buildings always on the northwest portion.
As we drove through Metairie, almost every home was damaged. Most had damage to the roof. Some had blue tarps over the roof where complete sections had been ripped off. Occasionally, we would see a building that partially collapsed. We passed a two or three story storage center that had the entire north walls ripped off, along with a portion of the roof, exposing people's belongings inside. Remarkably, most of the road signs seemed untouched, probably because they were perpindicular to the direction of the wind. The Metairie Cemetary had a spray-painted sign attached to its sign out front that simply said "Cemetary Closed." We were now entering an area that was flooded.
The grass in the cemetary and the median on I-10 was completely brown. Sitting inside our vehicle with the air conditioning running, it was easy to imagine the area was about 30 degrees outside the grass had that "winter brown" look to it. Of course all we had to do is open the window to know it was still in the upper 80's outside.
The high water mark was up on the huge intake pipes on the Metairie pumping station. Perhaps as high as 20' in places. It was far above the 10' line where I-10 passes under the railroad tracks. In fact, the high-water mark was on the bridge above the expressway - probably as high as the water has ever been in that area.
As we entered New Orleans, the damage just got worse. Billboards completely torn away. Buildings with no roof or collapsed. And the pictures do not do justice to the Superdome, sitting as it does like a huge wounded animal in the heart of the city. We exited at St. Charles and proceeded up river towards our house. Debris had been removed from the street, but it was everywhere. Before returning, several people wondered how long it would be until we heard the familiar sound of the Streetcar running down the avenue. It will be a long time. The neutral ground is littered with awnings, pieces of twisted metal, the origins of which can not be determined, and thousands of pieces of the Live Oak trees.
The beautiful canopy provided by the Live Oak trees is mostly gone, although the trees themselves survived. It is as though God himself took a giant hedge-clippers and just sheared off the tops. We tried to stay on main roads, since we had heard horror stories of tires being punctured by roofing nails that had blown loose with their shingles. In the area between the Westbank Expressway and our house, we noticed only one Live Oak that had been uprooted, having fallen indescriminately into one of the beautiful mansions that line St. Charles Avenue.
As we turned the corner onto Seventh Street we saw several vehicles clearing out the drains in the street. They initially blocked the road and were stationed directly in front of our house, so we parked on Carondolet and walked the half-block to the house. We walked around the building first. We found no visible damage to the house and only debris around it. Lots of shingles - from other homes, since ours has a tile roof, a gutter pipe - again from someone else's home, some pieces of siding, and remarkably, some rather large bricks that do not match anything I can find in the area. Most of this debris was found in our driveway, which is rather long and runs along side the house. There is a high wall on the other side from the house, so it must have created a sort of wind tunnel that could have actually funneled debris away from the house. At least that's what it looks like.
We have some new graffti on our front walk:
The "graffiti" on our front walk.
This mark indicates our home was inspected on 9/9/2005 and no one injured or dead were found. The "LSP" on the left refers to the Louisiana State Police. Had any one injured been found the empty space on the right would have had the number of living people found. This is spray-painted on our walk, so will remain as a reminder of this event for weeks, and perhaps months. Almost all homes in New Orleans have a similar marking, usually spray painted on the building itself. Sometimes, the number is not zero, indicating they found people sometimes dead.
As we went up the front steps we noticed the front porch light was on. We have electricity! Upon entering the house, we noticed no tell-tale smell of rotting food, no signs of looting, nothing. Just dead houseplants. After walking through the house, upstairs and down, I sat down on our bed upstairs and called Janis. I just started sobbing. I was absolutely overjoyed that our house escaped damage, but, at the same time completely overwhelmed by the amount of damage we saw and we hadn't even been to where there was flooding yet! I was also tired not only from being up for almost 24 hours, but also from just being on the road and away from home for almost 5 weeks.
Not knowing how long the electricity had been on, I slowly opened the freezer. Things had shifted, and a Tupperware bowl with spoiled crawfish tilted and started spilling out. I immediately closed the freezer door, but not in time to keep some very fragrant liquid from spilling out, and down the refridgerator door. Apparently, electricity had just been turned on earlier that day.
Having learned my lesson somewhat, I very slowly opened the refrigerator door just long enough to see hundreds of tiny flies flying about. I quickly closed the door, but the fragrance escaped from the main compartment as well. Janis wanted me to try to salvage a pot that was full of pinto beans that had been left in the fridge. We took a vote. It was 4 to 1 against (with Janis being the only vote for). Janis, I will buy you the best, most lovely replacement pot I can find, but I am not opening that fridge door again. It is currently out on the curb.
After unloading the Jeep we checked the van, which was still parked in front of our house. No flat tires, no broken windows, and no startee either. We'll save that project for another day. Our neighbors that live on the other side of our house came home briefly. They put the fridge on the curb and then packed up their SUV, gave me their phone numbers and left for Virginia (where they came from originally). They said they are not coming back to New Orleans.
We all climbed in the Jeep again and headed to Coop's Place for breakfast. At Coop's we were reunited with Coop, Laura. Fay, Peter, and Pam. For breakfast we had eggs, ham, and grits. If it weren't for the paper plates and plastic silverware, you wouldn't have thought anything had happened. It was a nice dose of normalcy on the heels of the positive experience we had at our house.
After breakfast we went over to Adam's house, where we were relieved to find no appreciable damage. A neighbor's tree came down and destroyed a fence in his back yard, but missed his house. Inside, the landlord had already cleaned out the fridge and there was no bad smell. There was mold inside on the living room ceiling and one wall, but other than that, everything seemed intact. Cary and I are going to go back there tomorrow and pull out some of the things Adam asked us to get.
We then headed to Cary's house. Things there were not so great. Almost all his belongings were already on the curb, ruined from the flood waters, which came up to 3-4 feet. Imagine having 3 to 4 feet of water sitting in the main living area of your home for ten days. Anything in the water basically turrns to mush, and when the water receeds, the black toxic mold takes over. All of the walls had already been torn out. The only things left in his apartment were some pieces of his bedroom furniture, some pictures, and whatever was in the upper cabinets in the kitchen. Everything else is gone. We spent part of today going through things there and salvaging what we can.We did manage to get Andrea's clothes and are washing them tonight, but we aren't sure how they will turn out. We will probably go back and try to salvage more stuff tomorrow. Here are a couple pictures of pieces from Cary's bedroom set, which my parents bought me when I was a child:
The bookcase & dresser. The bed & small dresser were too badly damaged to salvage.
After leaving Cary's house, we went past my friend Steve's house. He may have had 6-12 inches of water in his basement, but otherwise his house looks fine, and it appears no one had broken in there either. I did not have his house keys with me then, but we do have them and hope to revisit the house by the end of the week.
We dropped Tom off at his apartment near Felicity & Prytania. His building had extensive roof damage, which caused his ceiling to cave in. He is helping with repairs in lieu of paying rent. We then dropped Barry off at our house, where he took a shower and a nap. Cary and I headed out to Metairie to go to Dorignac's, a great grocery store which is not only open, but has fully stocked shelves (they were in an area that did not get flooded or looted, and may have never lost electricity). We were so tired, we really didn't know what we were doing. Without a refrigerator, we could only buy stuff we were either going to use right away, or canned goods. So naturally, we bought frozen pizzas and beer (and they did get used right away, btw).
Even though our home made it unscathed, everything takes longer. Normally, St. Charles Avenue is a very busy street. Not so now, but you can't go even close to the posted 35 mph speed limit because of either debris or emergency vehicles. There are no grocery stores open in uptown. No hardware stores either. So anything you need, you have to travel out to Metairie to get it. There are some smaller stores open in the French Quarter, but they rapidly run out of things since that is the most populated part of the city right now. And whatever you do, you have to do it with the 6PM to 8AM curfew in mind. It doesn't appear curfew is being enforced until it actually gets dark (between 7 and 7:30), but I wouldn't want to test it too much. The cook at the Bulldog was walking home last week around 9PM and he was stopped. The officer told him to "get home earlier" from now on.
Today, we drove out to the upper 9th ward to check on a couple of houses for friends, or friends of friends. On the way there, we ran into Jaclyn and Joey, who were busy, along with Jaclyn's father, tending to her house (see more about Jaclyn in the people section below). The police were manning the bridge over the Industrial Canal, and no one was allowed in the Lower 9th ward, but we could roam freely anywhere else in the city. This area was completely deserted. On the way back we encountered a unique display of Toxic Art. I took some video, which I will try to post by the end of the week.
As we are driving through formerly flooded areas we frequently see boats which are now sitting on dry land. Some of these boats are still tied to something now several feet higher.
We went by the home Joe Fontana is buying, and it also seemed to escape flooding:
We got the van working today, and drove it around for a while to charge the battery. Even here in uptown, which received "minor" damage in comparison to the rest of the city, there is debris either in or along every street. We estimate that in any section of houses between any two streets there are at most 1 or 2 homes being occupied at this time. On the way home, we noticed the Bulldog had opened up. Naturally we had to stop in and say howdy. Remarkably, all the tappers were working. They did get looted, but only lost a couple of cash registers and about 5 bottles of liquor. It was good to be there, and even though we were drinking out of "go cups," it was yet another dose of normalcy in a place that is at once familiar and unfamiliar.
Tonight, Cary and I will sit back and enjoy the Packer's game, while putting Andrea's clothes through a couple of cycles in the washer to see if they can be salvaged.
- Here is a picture of Jesse's new Tattoo:
- Speaking of tattoos, Matt Gone is currently in London having his face tattooed. He sent me some pictures of this work in progress:
- We ran into Jaclyn, who was cleaning up her house. The humane society apparently broke into her house and used it to house homeless cats. She said it stinks of cat urine everywhere. The ceiling collapsed in her back bathroom, and looters took a few things (she found her pots and pans littered through the neighborhood), but otherwise she is very positive. They are cleaning up the house so Fay, her son Mike, and Sharon and Willy can live there for awhile. She is enrolled in school in Orlando and hopes to come back to New Orleans every couple of weeks.
- Joey is back in New Orleans to stay. We saw him helping Jaclyn clean up her house.
- I spoke with Joe Fontana. He and Rebecca should be back in New Orleans next Monday. He said Glen Cozzi took an Amtrak train from Philly to Chicago and is staying with him for a couple days before boarding a train in Chicago bound for New Orleans.
- Fay is getting her son Mike enrolled in school in Metairie and will be working at Coop's.
- Tom Taylor is doing fine in Atlanta. I added his story to the stories section.
Many other entries have been updated on the People page.
The biggest news in the area is that far fewer people have been returning to the city than was anticipated. This is both good and bad. There are help wanted signs everywhere, but the city still largely lacks basic services (such as groceries and hardware stores) that it needs to support a larger population. But there is an ample supply of goods and services in the western suburbs, and the northshore (except Slidell) is pretty much back to normal. With a 6PM curfew, the city also lacks the nightlife that a larger population will need and soon demand after returning.
There is a Coastal Flood Warning in effect for Southeast Louisiana, which means some flooding is iminent as strong easterly winds are pushing water inland. Tides are expected to be as much as 4 feet above normal by Wednesday. The Army Corps of Engineers are working feverishly to shore up the levees to prevent additional flooding.
There is an excellent article about the water quality in New Orleans on nola.com. If you read the entire article it shows that the more water pressure you have, the more likely you have potable water. Our water pressure is pretty much exactly like it was before Katrina. Cary, Barry, and I have all taken showers with no ill effects. We are not drinking or cooking with the water, though.
There is a tropical wave out there that may be something to worry about. Here is what AccuWeather has to say about it:
An upper-level trough of low pressure is interacting with a tropical wave east of the Bahamas and this combo is slowly moving to the west. There is some shear over this system but that will relax during the next 24 hours. This might allow the system to become better organized during Tuesday and Wednesday and a tropical depression could form by Wednesday. A strong upper level high to the north will help guide this feature westward into the Straits of Florida during Tuesday night and Wednesday then into the eastern Gulf of Mexico Wednesday night and Thursday. The system could become a tropical storm over the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. Steering flow will be weak and variable during Thursday into Friday. An upper level trough approaching from the west should exert a southwest flow over the eastern Gulf of Mexico Friday and Saturday. So, what ever develops will be forced to move northeast or north northeast by Saturday.
Essentially, a strong cold front (which is supposed to cool us down on Friday) will keep this system from heading north into Flordia, and Stan will help keep it from going straight to Texas. This means it has to turn north at some point once it is in the Gulf. Katrina and Rita have churned up the Gulf of Mexico, so hopefully there is not enough "warm water" fuel out there to create another monster. We should know more later in the week.
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