[Original post: October 2, 2005]
I've been trying to post a picture of our house in New Orleans: if I manage it, eventually, the pile outside is the flood-damaged things we removed from the ground floor, along with our stinking, maggot-infested fridge. The only things we could salvage fit into a small laundry basket. Everything else of economic and sentimental value – from bicycles to washing machine to spare bed to old letters to writing desk to shoes to ironing board to toolbox to Tom’s high school yearbooks – is ruined.
We drove in on Thursday and stayed until Saturday afternoon, staying with Joy and Paul, our landlords. They live in Metairie, the big suburb to the west in Jefferson Parish (where there are functioning stop lights and no curfew). The city is a wreck. Hurricane damage is evident everywhere – trees and power lines down, roofs and walls ripped off, billboards destroyed. Parts of Airline Highway are still impassable. Along Claiborne Avenue, which is a major artery stretching from Carrollton to the CBD and beyond, you can see damage from the hurricane, from looting and vandalism, and from the flood. It looks like Viking hordes have swept through, inflicting as much destruction as possible.
It’s not easy driving around our neighborhood, between the piles of sodden carpet and furniture dumped along the sidewalk and spilling onto the street, the stolen cars left smashed and discarded, and the crews trying to move uprooted trees, branches and other debris from the road.
And then there’s the smell – brackish water, oil, sewage and rotting garbage. We wore masks and got through a box of disposable gloves. The smell and texture of the sludgy mess in our basement is absolutely foul. It’s hard not to gag. It’s hard not to get upset, as well, throwing everything away.
We have no electricity and no phone line (it’s our MCI service picking up messages, for those of you who call and get excited); the water can’t be used for drinking or bathing. Two National Guard vehicles drove by on Saturday when Paul was downstairs, ripping out paneling. The whole city is crawling with uniforms.
Slim Goodies on Magazine Street is serving cheeseburgers and fries on paper plates. In Jefferson Parish, Morning Call is serving beignets and coffee. Target is open, though it’s not accepting food stamps. And down in the Quarter – now a military zone, but with electricity and a jovial atmosphere – Russell got power back and opened up Arcadian Books. (We stopped by to say hello, and on the way out saw Mari Kornhauser, busy making a documentary.)
People are coming in to clean up, but not everyone is staying. New Orleans needs its residents back to help with the clean-up, staff open businesses and persuade more businesses to re-open, but large parts of the city are still not inhabitable. We’re back in Avoyelles Parish now, with the sugar cane and the mosquitoes, trying to forget the smell.
Arcadian Books - blurry but open. The next picture is the back of St Louis Cathedral, facing Royal Street. The storm broke Jesus' hand.
Clean-up had already begun in the Quarter.
Canal Street (below). All the Canal Street streetcars were flooded.
In the CBD: