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Name:Polimom
Location:near Houston, Gulf Coast, United States

Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Race Relations - Why the Katrina Reporting Matters

Conscientious parents teach personal responsibility for one’s actions as a core value. This is not a demand for perfection, but ownership of an outcome. People make mistakes, but only rarely do they cause global damage. Unfortunately, the hysteria from the Katrina aftermath is one of those rare events.

NOLA’s Times Picayune has made the first attempt to meet the personal responsibility expectation. Given that their town suffered the most image-damage, it makes sense that they would step up first – but they should not stand alone. Why, then, is the major media not running this story on its front pages?

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) chastised “the blogosphere” last night for not embracing the “self-correcting media”, which tremulously spoke out in the form of that Times Picayune article. In an article titled MSM Outs Self; Bloggers Pounce, Edward B. Colby wrote:

“…this important example of self-scrutiny, far from drawing admiration, has attracted vituperation from that portion of the blogosphere eager, as always, to jump on what it still quaintly refers to as the MSM.”

The short answer to why this would be, from my perspective, is that it’s not loud enough, it’s not being carried widely enough – it’s just not nearly enough. NOLA.com’s journalists should be the first of many, not “the latest work of a couple of reporters doing what they're supposed to do -- setting the record straight”.

The demographics of New Orleans allowed the post-Katrina panic to be framed by race, and the effects go far beyond the tattered image of The Big Easy. While I’m sorry that publications like the ever-confounded BBC are terminally stuck in the “What’s wrong with America” loop, it’s the domestic fall-out that worries me.

For instance, yesterday’s Daily Terrorism Brief from Stratfor said in part,

“Sources report, however, that many of the communities that have seen a sudden, large influx of refugees have expressed apprehension about the possibility that the out-of-towners will constitute an undesirable or dangerous element, especially in light of the looting that gripped New Orleans immediately following the disaster. This concern is being exacerbated by the numerous white-supremacy groups that are spreading negative rumors about refugees and posting racist rhetoric on their Web sites.”

The universal horror and outrage has led to scrutiny of the criminal records of the evacuees – an astounding step - spurred by fear and suspicion of anyone associated with the Superdome / Convention Center havoc. I’m certain the white supremacists are not going to help an unwitting and media-led audience understand the culture of poverty – much less investigate why a new environment may allow the evacuees to break the trend. This comment from one of my own articles is a great example.

The panic and hysteria also led (as always) to that vastly over-played trump card – race – by anybody standing near a microphone or a camera. No matter how hard writers have tried to separate the racial component (myself included), it’s an impossible tide to turn...because people believe the media.

As Earl Hutchinson wrote in his article “Playing the Katrina Race Card”,

"The heavy handed rush to openly or subtly to paint the tragedy of New Orleans as yet another terrible example of the black-white divide in America does a horrible disservice to the poor and needy that are suffering. Admittedly a majority of them are black, but many of the victims are white too. This stirs fear, anger, and latent racism in many whites. It stirs the same fear anger, and racial antipathies among many blacks."

This is why at least one blogger (me) is pretty unimpressed so far with the low-key and hesitant self-examination to date. If MSM = "Mainstream Media", then NOLA.com is the minor leagues. Until the major players are willing to give as much attention to their role in exacerbating the situation, it's premature to sanctimoniously claim that the MSM has “self-corrected”.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hype or Reality?

It’s hard to know what to make of this story, running on NOLA.com. Is it damage control, or reality? Here are some excerpts:

Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated

The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. Nagin told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.

Certainly the stories from the Superdome and the Convention Center are among the most horrifying I’ve ever heard. I absolutely believe there was looting, gunfire, and mayhem. The city definitely was burning and exploding, and people died. It wasn’t all a fantasy spurred by panic and hysteria.

BUT - another reality is that the media, too, fell victim to the panic. Furthermore, I believe they self-perpetuated their own hysteria.

The media have some really bad habits, not the least of which is “spinning” a story for the greatest dramatic effect. In their race against one another to report the most gruesome acts, the most depraved crimes, or the most heroic rescues, they intensify situations exponentially. A thousand reporters hearing the same incident, but describing different details to provide a unique story, create a thousand different events to a credulous audience.

The looting and violence were real. No two ways about it, and I don’t mean hungry people looking for food either. Folks – you just cannot eat a TV. Truly.

The gunfire in the streets was real. I don’t think anybody really doubts that.

What I do NOT believe is that the entire city of New Orleans went insane. Nor do I think that what happened there is in any way indicative of failed social programs throughout American society. The problems in New Orleans do not necessarily translate elsewhere, and some responsible party really needs to get in front of the confusion this tragedy has created.

A significant amount of what we were told was going on in New Orleans was true. Unfortunately, even had it all been made up, it wouldn’t matter, because people believed it then, and they believe it still.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Algiers - Come Home

From several sources, including the Houston Chronicle:

Nagin said he wanted residents of the Algiers neighborhood, which has electricity and water, to start returning as early as Monday or Tuesday, followed by people in other ZIP codes.

And while a cautionary note has been sounded several times in the past by Thad Allen, this time he said,

"The city can continue allowing business operators to return to unaffected areas and letting residents return to the West Bank and Algiers"

I think it's official. Time to go home, my friends.

Clearing the air about post-Katrina events

Since Reuters ran the story about “Ft. Pelican”, there have been any number of queries and emails, both for and against what happened. Unfortunately – like all news stories – the story is incomplete, leaving room for speculation and interpretation.

When events were unfolding, thousands of people on the outside (and some very afraid people on the inside) were depending on me to help them. That was not the time, in my opinion, to lose focus, and I was as carefully neutral, politically, as I could be – only diverging on rare occasions that provoked me strongly. As a result of this careful approach, there seems to be some confusion on a number of issues, and it’s time to clear the air a bit.

First – From my side of events, race never entered the equation. I never asked what “color” anybody was, at any time. The question was, and is, totally irrelevant. It bothers me that people insist on viewing the world so narrowly. As long as I’m “clearing the air”, though, not everyone involved in Algiers was white, and I myself am of mixed ancestry.

I am aware that a few groups have cited my blog to prove their positions. Early on, I
reacted strongly to the Democratic Underground, primarily because they interpreted events in an information vacuum. I really resented (and still do) the assumptions made there.

However, a highly offensive White Supremacist group – The
Vanguard News Network - also spun events, and while I didn’t have time then to address them publicly, I did write a letter to their webmaster, which was posted to their site (search on "polimom"). This group’s entire ideology disgusts me. (Note: their site contains incredibly vulgar language.)

And that’s about all the spare cycles I had for any of those groups at the time.

Second – While Reuters wire services provided the story itself,
MSNBC.com added what I consider to be a misleading and inflammatory title for it: “Residents recall vigilante justice after Katrina”. The term vigilante puts an unfortunate spin on events. From Merriam Webster online:

Main Entry: vig·i·lan·te
Pronunciation: "vi-j&-'lan-tE
Function: noun
Etymology: Spanish, watchman, guard, from vigilante vigilant, from Latin vigilant-, vigilans: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law appear inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice

None of the people I know or worked with during the Katrina chaos were “punishing crime summarily”. Every incident occurred in a self-defense situation. Furthermore, the thought of armed groups roaming streets in order to "punish" without due process of law, appalls me. I can’t say there were no vigilante groups in Algiers (or anywhere else), but I can say I don’t know them.

Third – There was never a direct request for weapons. There was a
request for supplies, via which I also helped people obtain gasoline, batteries, and chainsaws.

Fourth – The right to keep and bear arms is a point of heated debate – but it is nonetheless a right. Weapons (in general) scare me; I don’t keep one. But when order is gone (it was), and the authorities are afraid (they were), the thought that anyone would be expected to sit defenseless, while the city is
exploding and burning, men are peering into windows, and gunfire is sounding all around, is incredibly naïve. I personally know only a few people – Quakers and Pacifists all their lives – who would have handled things differently. I admire them, but I am not of the same mind.

Neutrality was necessary, but very hard to maintain. I’m glad to be moving on.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Algiers Post-Rita (Are we there yet?)

I am sooooo ready for a party. What a month! But what’s the point of having a party when the hosts aren’t at home yet?

Yes, I know - many folks went into Algiers over the last couple of weeks. Some even stayed! But nasty Rita managed to confound officials all over again, and folks were getting turned back at the Parish line who had only gone out for groceries. (That has to have been incredibly frustrating!)

Between one thing and another, it’s still not clear whether anybody has remembered that Algiers was not under a mandatory evacuation, and they are allowed to be there. (Note: I’ve been told that particular communication failure has been fixed.)

There is news, however, about conditions and services in Algiers. It's posted in the forums, under "Information from Officials". (Click here for the latest release from Jackie Clarkson.)

So – Algiers came through Rita fine. No surprises. And the backseat of the car is again filled with chirpy voices, “Are we there yet? Can we go home now?” {smile}

Officially, the answer is… "We’re not sure”. Unofficially, if people don’t use the elevated expressway, there are numerous ways around and in. Of course, if I were planning to return from someplace like North Dakota or Alaska, I’d want something a little more concrete.

To that end, I’ve raised the question yet again. If there’s no official announcement by… say… noon on Monday, I think we’ll have to have another geography lesson for the Orleans officials. Til then, Algiers is still on hold – I think.


Sigh….

Update: Sept 24 4:00pm - I've posted an email in the forums for you to read, here. Also, a forum topic here to read.

I Need a Better Diet

The constant influx of floods, storms, death, and destruction is taking a toll on my normally good humor.

In stressful times, some people eat chocolate, while others gorge on cherry pie (my personal favorite). This works really well on a short term basis, but in the face of nearly five weeks of non-stop stress, even the most devout chocoholics are running some risks with this approach. By now, there’s not much point in going through the trouble of actually ingesting the stuff – may as well just tape those morsels right onto your hips.

In hopes of finding lighter material to talk about this morning – just for a novel change of pace – I went everywhere I could think of online… and guess what? I found even MORE death and destruction. It’s everywhere. No wonder I’m getting depressed!

We all know that National Obesity is a real problem – it’s yet another of the really depressing things frequently in the news. Maybe the problem with Fat America (excuse my bluntness) is the result of non-stop comfort food? Seriously! (Okay, maybe not totally serious…)

For my own mental health, I finally went to my two fail-safe sites: Dave Barry’s Blog, and The Onion. I’m happy to say they both delivered precisely what I needed – some fat free stress relief.

You may or may not agree with the political slants at either of those sites, but as Dave said, in an interview earlier this month,

“Oh yeah. First of all, anxiety is a good source of humor. Bad times equals good humor. People love -- going back to what I said -- we love that release that comes from being able to just laugh for a minute at how bad things are."

Go eat.

A Windy "Non-Event"

It was good and noisy here about 2 a.m. The wind finally got more serious, and for about 3 1/2 hours, it was howling. It's still blowing blue blazes, but from the NNW now. As far as I can tell, the power didn't even flicker.

The worst casualty here was sleep, particularly for our 4-month-old labrador puppy. She's beside herself still, this morning - torn between fascination with the blowing leaves (she wants to chase them) and anxiety about the strangeness. On the other hand, the stray cat we brought inside to shelter in a spare bedroom looks perfectly relaxed. Go figure. He'll probably want to stay.

All in all, I'd have to call this a "non-event" in Katy, particularly in comparison to expectations a few days ago. I'm really very tired of hurricanes now.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Finally - A (very) Little Bit...

It feels as if I've been waiting for Rita for years, not days. At last, she's starting to make an entrance. Wind predictions for our area, tonight, are for gusts 50-60 mph. So far, I'd estimate them at about half of that.

We've been watching the storm's progress on our local radar as the outer edges slowly moved further inland, and about 3 hours ago, we were finally able to see the line of clouds to the east.


It was beautiful, in fact. The sky directly above was an intense, almost electric blue, with very dark grey-green clouds scudding across. And amazingly, there was a rainbow spanning the sky, framing the coming darkness.

So - with flashlights placed strategically around the house (but hopeful the power will hold), we're ready. And we're relieved...

Conditions in Katy - 3:00pm Friday

The wind is just starting to pick up a bit now, although in general I'd still describe this as a brisk breeze. Still sunny, too, though the clouds are increasing.

Most of my neighbors who hit the roads for points west and/or north returned home this morning. They all had horror stories to tell. One of them never got out of Katy! (wow...)

I walked around a bit with my camera, hoping to get shots of preparations in my neighborhood, but found only two houses with plywood on the windows.

Actually, one of them improvised with fence boards, and I've seen other interesting ideas, including sheets (outside the windows) and cardboard (inside the windows). (Note: I'm not suggesting these as a solution by any means... lol... )

I haven't decided yet whether the lack of preparation suggests confidence that the storm would miss, or inability to locate materials (that's my excuse). I suppose my first guess (Wednesday evening) that people would use the plywood as a food source is still viable.

The two primary emotions I've encountered on the block are
1) nonchalance, or 2) panic. Doesn't matter much at this point, though, what one thinks will happen. The game is now in play.


More later...



Rita Update for Algiers

I can't believe this. I feel positively schizophrenic at the moment - focused on my own backyard, and fully aware of/integrated with Algiers. Decidedly odd...

Odder still (for me) - the situation there is apparently rather a lot worse than where I am. Certainly this is much different from the early Rita expectations.

From the email:

My cousin is staying in my home on Horace. Power out since midnight, 2" rain and police patrolling so far.

And another:

Rita is on her way. Winds gusted to 48 mph this morning here in NO. It's been raining pretty much on and off since last night. A tree across the street was just too wet and weak and fell over in the night. Heard things bouncing off the walls of our house and the house next door. Looked this morning, no damage, just a lot of noise. We're currently under a tornado watch til 6PM and are being told that if we won't leave, we need to write our social security numbers on our arms in Sharpie so they can identify us.

Lost power for most of the night last night, but it came on gratefully this morning about 6AM. Cable is gone again, so back to dialup. If the wind keeps increasing the power may go again, so wanted to let you all know that we're fine.

So far (other than the obviously fragile power lines and trees), this sounds like a fairly normal storm, and Algiers has weathered many. I'm keeping my hopes up...

Update: 1:45pm Friday - Algiers - Since I can't guarantee my ability to blog or check emails in the next 24 hours or so, I've set up a Rita forum for you. Feel free to update one another, either here in comments, or over there.

Levees Breached Already - New Orleans

I was worried about this last night, finally posting about it earlier this morning. Apparently, things are already breaking in New Orleans. (That didn't take long, did it?)
MSNBC.com is running this story, which says in part,

"Dozens of New Orleans blocks were underwater after rain poured over a patched levee in the form of a waterfall at least 30 feet wide, confirming fears that the city's weakened levees would not be able to handle the additional rainfall.

Water was waist deep and rising fast on the street that runs next to the canal."

From a NOLA.com story:

"Water poured over a patched levee Friday, cascading into one of the city's lowest-lying neighborhoods and heightening fears that Hurricane Rita would re-flood this devastated city."

As terrible as it's been to watch the power struggle and squabbling betweeen Mayor Nagin and the federal authorities, I'm very glad, at the moment, that Nagin backed down.

The Katrita Phenomenon

Since I can’t distinguish the panic surrounding Rita from the psychological horrors of Katrina, I’ve started thinking of this whole debacle as the "Katrita" Phenomenon. The entire Texas coastal region is suffering from its effects, and it’s absolutely astonishing.

I’ve been reading through my blog entries over the last week, and can easily see my own affliction, right from the start. Why else would a seasoned hurricane “survivor” (we all are down here) have written a post called, “
Me? Nervous? U Betcha!” for a tropical depression?

Intellectually, I and other long-term Gulf Coast dwellers know that Katrina's impact on New Orleans was unique, and that the vast damage elsewhere was primarily right along the coast. Emotionally, the images are too fresh in our minds to separate from the current reality.

Under normal circumstances (sans Katrina), we’d likely have started watching Rita very carefully sometime on Tuesday – but by Tuesday, people were full-tilt into the evacuation. This behavior varies so widely from the normal mode, I can hardly comprehend it.

By Wednesday night, Rita was one of the scariest storms I’ve ever seen - but still days away. That was the night I considered leaving – and might have, had the evacuation routes out of the Houston metro area not already been grid-locked. That night, I was really scared – because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to leave. Two days yet to go, and the routes out were at a stand-still.

Since that terrifying Wednesday night, my area has watched Rita turn to the northeast, not only taking us out of the direct path, but also putting the Houston area on the “good side” of the storm. Coastal areas are still at risk, of course, by their very nature, proximity notwithstanding.

I still see neighbors leaving this morning, although I really can’t understand what destination might be achievable. More to the point - what is it that they're fleeing? Conditions on the roads are likely far worse than here at home, regardless of Rita’s landfall. I’d much rather be in my house than out of gas, or overheated and stalled, on a congested highway. Is that what happened
to this bus?

The panic has driven incredible numbers of people from homes that are not threatened substantially, impeding (and possibly endangering) the mandatory evacuees from the lower-lying coastal communities.

Why are so many people still fleeing my area? The Katrita Phenomenon. For the next decade, psychologists and sociologists are going to have an absolute field day.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Katy's lookin' good... unlike elsewhere

I'm feeling fairly secure, here in Katy. Rita has gone off to the NE of me, and our forecast looks less dangerous by the minute. My home (and those around me) can easily withstand the currently predicted gusts to 65 mph. Obviously, like everyone else, I'm still alert. It's pretty unlikely at this point, though, that my location will be in severe danger.

My relief has given me the mental energy to go have a look at the predictions and expectations for New Orleans. Over on
NOLA.com, I found a headline referring to “seepage” along the Lower Ninth Ward levee. What does that mean? Dunno – but it can’t be good. This link shows several pictures, and accompanying text that includes mention of increasing water there. I’m having some trouble understanding why this is the only place I’ve found mention of the seepage. Did I miss something the last few days?

While I was still thinking about seeping levees in New Orleans, I meandered over to
WWLTV.com, and paid a visit to the weather forums. Meteorologist Brad Panovich has been posting, and his latest update (and ensuing thread) is here. He sees the storm coming ashore (most likely) at Lake Charles, with the possibility of a late turn further east.

Most of the predictions I've read this morning confirm this, but are also now suggesting 3-5 inches of rain for New Orleans (which is under a Tropical Storm warning).

Taken together, I don’t like the sound of things there. Algiers, I believe, will come out just fine from this storm. However, the thought of a lot of rain combined with a seeping levee on the East Bank makes my head throb.

About the only good news, if something breaks there again, is pretty much everybody is already out of that area.


More than anything, though - I really hope the traffic situation didn't crater as horribly over toward Rita's main strike zone, and that those people are long gone.

Texas - a Model of Emergency Preparedness

The Citizens of the Gulf Region of the State of Texas have shown themselves to have astounding generosity of spirit. Since Katrina, I have (for the first time I can remember) been proud to live here. Truly, the people here are wonderful. Before I say anything else with this post, I really wanted to emphasize that.

Okay. That’s clear. So here comes a major rant (you can just use the “back” button on your browser if you want to avoid this).

I want to talk for just a little second or two about the abysmally short-sighted stupidity shown by this state’s emergency preparations officials.

I – lowly citizen me – knew five days ago that there was a problem coming in the form of another probable hurricane. I also knew gasoline shortages sprang up immediately in the Katrina crisis. Do you think anybody might have thought to order up a little extra gasoline?

How about plywood? They’ve been sold out, everywhere, almost all week. Was that all there was in the entire country? No extra stock anywhere to ship down this-away?

Hello?

Worst of all (and enhanced dramatically by that little gasoline snafu) - There’s been a staggering amount of patronizing about the State of Louisiana, and how they handled their emergency preparations. But I don’t remember reading that evacuation routes were complete parking lots. For two days! Maybe somebody should have asked Louisiana how to set up the evacuation routes so they can point all lanes of traffic OUT?

Residents of the Houston metro area, and those unfortunates from the coastal communities below it, have been parked for 10 hours and more, in 100 degree (plus) heat, no air-conditioning… People are pushing their cars to conserve gas, or driving 5 miles in 12 hours!

What is going on here?? Stupid stupid stupid.

End of rant.

Cat 4 Rita

The NHC/NOAA has updated its information. Rita is a Cat 4, with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph. That’s good news. However, the projected track is fundamentally unchanged, and it hasn’t weakened much further than it had a couple of hours ago.

For everybody watching in fear for New Orleans, though, I found this statement (from NHC/NOAA Discussion #21 heartening:

THE TROPICAL STORM WARNING HAS BEEN EXTENDED EASTWARD AND NORTHWARD ALONG THE LOUISIANA COAST. ANY TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS IN THE NEW ORLEANS AREA ARE EXPECTED TO BE CONFINED TO A FEW SQUALLS ASSOCIATED WITH QUICKLY MOVING
RAINBANDS.

For those of you who have family and/or friends attempting to travel the evacuation routes – my sympathy. The evacuation system in Texas has proven to be a total embarrassment.

I've pulled up some forecasts from the National Weather Service, just to satisfy my own curiousity. The latest outlook for Katy (my location) is linked here. This is what they say about Friday night for us:

Periods of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 1am. Some of the storms could be severe, with heavy rain. Low around 76. Windy, with a north wind between 40 and 50 mph, with gusts as high as 70 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%.

Here’s the forecast for Beaumont, and for Lake Charles.

All of this, of course, is sure to change the next time they update.

Several Updates about Rita

Things are changing minute by minute. Rather than try to paraphrase these, I think on this post I'll just give you the links I am looking at right now:

Jeff Master's Wunder Blog has an excellent discussion and graphic about the coastal flooding potential.

This morning, Eric Berger's SciGuy blog gave very helpful info regarding when to expect the winds to start up in the Houston area.

The Wunder Blog (linked above) and this Houston Chronicle article, both hold out hope for everyone in the form of potential weakening to a Cat 3.

The news from Katy is much brighter now, and I'm less stressed about staying. For all of you, though, who are along the coastal areas - if you haven't left yet, GET GOING!

When this is all over (again), I hope everyone checks back into the neighborhood forums. I'll be looking for you there...

Rita is REALLY causing problems

Well now – isn’t this dandy? Rita is really becoming a problem all the way around, yes?

This is from my email:

"We are staying in a trailer in Lafayette. At this point they are calling for voluntary evacuation of mobile homes here. Is there a chance we can go to our home in Park Timbers where it will be safe?"

My gut instinct is to say, “No”, although I really don’t like that answer. Algiers is not likely to have any trouble handling this… unless Rita takes a hard turn and deals another direct blow. In that case, those river levees, already stressed by the many loose ships, would be a worry (not to mention the existing conditions across the river).

NOLA.com is running an AP article right now, titled “Rain falling in New Orleans, raising fears of new flooding”. The last paragraph says,

”New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin continued to urge residents to get out of the city. A mandatory evacuation order is in effect for the entire east bank of the Mississippi, and some 500 buses were standing by at the convention center, but few seemed to be taking advantage. Only 27 people had been evacuated by the end of Wednesday."

Given all the fear and confusion just now, I can't imagine they're letting anybody into Orleans. I know there are many Algiers folks reading this. If somebody has news to the contrary, now would be a great time to share it.

If nothing else, you might consider trying to drive due north from your location, if it’s still an option over that way. Further inland is always better, as all of us know. (Getting out of the Houston metro area is looking really problematic, but I just don’t know enough right now about Louisiana.)

On a personal note: my former Algiers houseguests just called from Ft. Polk. They left this morning from Lake Charles, under a mandatory evacuation order. This is just nuts. Hang on tight, everybody - and keep breathing... slowly...

On the Road to Nowhere

I went to bed very late last night (early this morning, really) full of anxiety. The 10 pm update from the National Hurricane Center had shifted Rita’s track to the north, across Freeport, and put Katy just NE of the center. That projection scared me so badly, I couldn’t even blog about it.

So I went to bed instead. Best thing I could’ve done, since worrying about yesterday’s news has little bearing 9 hours later. This morning’s projected path has shifted yet again, now bringing the storm ashore at Galveston.

This is such a vicious storm, and it is following so closely on Katrina, that people are quite properly trying to get out of its path. The problem is… who needs to get out, and where can one go? The “who” seems to be changing hourly, and the where? That’s anybody’s guess.

By all accounts, heading north or west are not good options now. Gasoline is in short supply, and the evacuation routes are
parking lots. This is from an email late last night, from someone whose family is trying to evacuate:

I am sitting in Sulphur, LA on the phone with my sister from Kemah ,Tx who is in the process of evacuating to San Antonio very very slowly. They thought they were leaving early enough to avoid the rush. It is now midnight, She left Kemah at 3:00 PM today and it has taken her 9 hours to make it to Houston.

I have a nephew from Texas City that is going in the direction of Sam Rayburn and left at 5:00 and 7 hours later he has made it to Baytown. He says the same thing all exits and most highways are closed. They both had a hard time finding gas today and now understand why many cars and trucks are being left on the roadside.

As Rita shifts and dances about in the next hours, more folks will be loading their cars and heading out. The biggest evacuation in history is going to highlight a whole new set of problems regarding emergency preparedness. I can’t imagine trying to ride out a hurricane, on the highway, with my family and pets (but no gas).

Just as well I’m planning to sit it out at home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I Recommend Cherry Pie

I'm feeling much better, now that I've polished off the last of the cherry pie and had a drive around Katy. It's wondrous what a home-made pie can do for the soul! Best thing I can think of for Hurricane Anxiety!

The drive around Katy was interesting. It's an absolute zoo out there on the roads, folks! Even the staff at the pet store was coming apart at the seams. (We were there for a scheduled puppy training class, that got cancelled - seems the instructor is evacuating from the Galveston area tonight.)

One of the things that struck me during my drive was that I saw only one window boarded. But every supply store for miles around is completely sold out of plywood. So where is it? Unless I start seeing windows being covered tomorrow, I'm just going to assume folks are planning to dine on plywood if their food runs out.

The gas situation is a joke, too. Mason Road (a main N-S artery) was bumper to bumper for miles. It wasn't until I'd crawled my way through 5 or 6 intersections that I found the source... the right lane was a gas line for one of the few open stations.

All in all, though, I'm feeling better about things. Not because I don't think we're gonna have a storm, cuz we definitely are. Certainly not because everybody's calmly going about their normal routines, cuz they're not. Guess it must be that cherry pie workin' on me.

Just Keep Breathin'

In... and out.... Breathe, Polimom.... relax....

lol - sort of.

If anyone had asked me a week ago whether Katy was a good place to be (in this area) for a hurricane, I'd have said yes. I may even have had the conversation with a few of you! But that was in the abstract, and I was visualizing the many lesser storms I've ridden out in the past.

The truth of the matter is, we're on the wrong side of this storm's track. I'd be thrilled if somebody could share some wind projections that differ from those I've already seen, because the ones I've looked at indicate that Katy will likely have winds roughly 20 mph from whatever Houston gets. In fact, unless I'm totally reading all this wrong, the winds here may be higher than the projections for Galveston.

Thankfully (for us in Katy) we will not have problems, at all, with storm surge. We're much too far inland. The coastal residents are facing a truly dire threat. For us, it's just the wind, and possibly tornadoes. Knowing that, I found this statement, from weather.com, immensely comforting:

If there is any good news at this point, it is the fact that it is very difficult for a hurricane to maintain category 5 status for an lengthy period of time. Near-perfect to perfect atmospheric conditions are necessary for a category 5 hurricane to exist and these "perfect" conditions are first - difficult to come by and second - do not remain in place for a long period of time. So although Rita is currently a category 5 hurricane, fluctuations in intensity is likely.

About half of the neighbors on my street are evacuating. The few gas stations here that are not sold out have hour-long lines. There are no batteries, plywood, or bottled water at any of the stores near here.

I gotta tell ya - it's really hard to think straight, when a Cat 5 Hurricane with sustained winds of 165 mph is moving toward you. Rita really needs to back down some.

A Smile for Algiers

In the midst of the post-Katrina madness, when the city of New Orleans was descending into madness, gunfire, and explosions, Algiers rallied to help the neighbors who stayed behind.

For those MANY of you who responded during that crazy week, with support, messages, and offers of direct help, this article is for you:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9426745/

While the people involved in the story above are from the Point, all of Algiers responded. You are an amazing community.

And just for the record: The title is misleading in the extreme, to me. There's nothing about self-defense, in the midst of anarchy, that qualifies as vigilante justice.

Take Your Best Guess

The worst part about hurricanes is not knowing where they’ll hit, and Rita is no exception. Decisions can only be made on a “best guess” basis, knowing things can change right up til landfall.

For those who have written, asking what I’m going to do: I’m staying. I say that, knowing we’re on high ground, and roughly 50 miles inland. I am nervous about our choice on this one, though, because of the northerly turn the storm is expected to take after Rita hits land.

The Kinetic Analysis Corporation and University of Central Florida (KAC/UCF) has been updating the projected damage estimates based on a complex-beyond-comprehension algorithm that includes flooding and wind predictions. Every time the landfall coordinates change, all these projections change accordingly.

To understand my quandary, here’s the data from the projection site that I'm looking at:

An hour ago, Fulshear was estimated at 98 mph. Similarly, my dad’s house in Houston is currently projected to see 70 mph. An hour ago, it said 77. So - it's clearly hard to know.

To put this into perspective, the Houston Chronicle ran an article yesterday that included this paragraph:

"Wes Johnson, spokesman for Houston's Public Works and Engineering Department, said most Houston homes were constructed to withstand 90 mph wind speeds prior to 2000, which is when the city required new homes to meet a 110 mph standard."

Just at the moment, we’re well within these ranges. If things change, though, I’ll be relying on the evacuation information, like everybody else...which can be found here (again courtesy of the Houston Chronicle).

More later…

"We're the Government, and we're here to help"

FEMA and the Red Cross are no doubt standing ready - again - to swoop into a hurricane-devastated region. Since parts of Texas are likely to be faced with some of the same issues as LA and MS, there are some things to know about how that might look.

A Washington Post article, "By Hook or by Crook", describes some of the problems encountered by local officials in MS. For instance:

"Gulfport is badly in need of generators to keep its pumping stations working;sewage was beginning to come out of manhole covers, and Warr feared an outbreak of disease. He put in an order for 157 generators with FEMA and did the paperwork. Then he got a call from Washington. The voice on the other end of theline told him that the generators couldn't be sent without a specific address. "Send them to City Hall," Warr said he replied. "I've got 157 places they need to go." He never got the generators."
Algiers, on the West Bank of Orleans Parish, was comparatively undamaged by Katrina, primarily because they did not suffer the hideous flooding in the aftermath. However, there is damage and suffering there, and some Algerines are finding it nearly impossible to help their neighbors. The long, emotional email below is from an Algiers resident working incredibly hard for her neighbors. While it's slightly edited and abridged, I posted most of it, just to enhance the chaos.

"Many people lost all their clothes, their bed linens, everything. Even if their houses survived..., some of their stuff was just gone from water damage through the roof. [A bunch of supplies were] sent here by a group called Van Nuys Relief. These trucks were full of stuff - Clothes, linens, toiletries, tons of medical supplies, food, water. It was incredible...At [the relief site], we were told that they couldn't take the linens and clothes and toys, but would take the food. So we started unloading the truck. We put all the medical supplies in my [car] and I took off to find someone who would take this awesome stuff.

First stop, Red Cross. They had set up a station at Landry High School, right across the street from some of the most decrepitly maintained housing projects I've ever seen. A very poor section of Algiers. I find a woman there. Tell her I have clothes, bed linens and toys but I need a truck to get them to her. The stuff is only ten blocks away. She says no problem. She's delighted. She then takes me to the head of the Red Cross station who is a lovely woman hog-tied by Red Cross regulations. She says that because they aren't brand new in the package she can't take them. She wishes the Red Cross would give the field workers some authority but they don't and it would take a MONTH to get the paperwork through to get this stuff to where it's really needed. She said she REALLY needed it but couldn't take it. Regulations. She suggests I go across the street to the other part of the high school or start my own relief organization.

I head across the street. It's FEMA. I start to tell the head of that field office what's happening. She starts hollering at me, flapping her hands and repeating NO NO NO NO. I was fine til she did that. Then I was pissed. She said she had talked with Jackie Clarkson, our city councilwoman. I said, good. Give me her number. I called Ms. Clarkson, got an answering machine, still no answer and those guys are still standing in 94 degree Louisiana heat with these boxes. She keeps hollering at me, I turned around with her still talking and left. She had the same excuse, not new in packages.

I headed to a local church. No one there. Found another church with Red Cross people in front of it. I get a Red Cross Chaplain. Explain the situation to her. She says I have to go over and talk to, you guessed it, the FIRST lady I talked with. I said, why don't YOU get in my car and come see what we have. She says she can't. There's a baby faced Red Cross volunteer in front of the Church. I say, fine send HIM with me. She says he's not authorized to go with me in my car. Regulations.

By this time I'm furious. I KNOW people need this stuff. I've been in their houses.

What about all the medical supplies?? I'd been given a list of supplies needed by a doc who was running the med tent over at Kern's. The list he gave me includes everything from alcohol swabs to antibiotics. It's a huge list. I not only can't FIND the clinic he's supposedly at, but the Red Cross and FEMA won't take the med supplies either.

I stop by the 82nd Airborne and find a doc there. He comes to the car, helps me cut open the boxes and sees what's in them. His eyes told the whole story. He said he really needed this stuff but "wasn't allowed to take it." For god's SAKE, the stuff is sealed in individual sterile containers! IV stuff, a sharps container, I can't begin to list everything there was so much.

By now I'm near tears. There are people, we’ve FOUND them, who need this stuff. But no one can freaking TAKE it? Why? Because it's regular private citizens like us who are getting it donated and trucked in and distributed. I don't have the right paperwork. It's absurd and obscene. Finally I find another clinic, by pure luck. I see a sign saying First Aid Station. I head in there and there is a fabulous midwife nurse practitioner. First she wants to treat me for heat exhaustion (I was pretty red in the face by then, coulda been heat, probably anger!), I laugh and grab a bag of ice and take her to my car. She sees what I have and says "Take it to the Clinic on Teche. They need it desperately."

There’s more, but you get the point. Given that resources are already stretched thin, I'm morbidly expecting to see these stories repeated soon, in the communities awaiting Rita. “We’re the government and we’re here to help.” Unh hunh.

A Parental Balancing Act

Wow. Rita is picking up strength at an astonishing rate. A Cat 4 already???? She’s still 2 ½ days away!

Now we start the parental dance with our children – walking the fine line between discussions grounded in reality and reassurance that no matter how it plays out, it won’t look like New Orleans after Katrina.

It won’t be easy to do. This part of the country was fully engulfed by the last storm’s aftermath. Our schools are packed with children who either evacuated, or were rescued – children who have lost everything. Families all over the area have donated time, clothing, money, put together fund raisers, hosted others… there is complete understanding here of what a major hurricane can do. Knowing that we won’t be swept away in our location does not minimize the terrible destruction that is likely to smash our friends and family at lower elevations.

So far, my child seems to have internalized the reassurance I’ve given ever since Rita was TD18, innocent and far from us. Like other parents, I’ll be listening for the tell-tale signs of anxiety in the next couple of days.


I still believe we’ll be fine here. I fully expect wind damage, but at 142’ above sea level, circumstances are much different in Katy than in Houston (much less New Orleans or the Mississippi coast). Our streets flood with torrential rain – but they all do. Storm drains can only handle so much water per minute. They’ll eventually drain.

Better yet, officials in Texas are organized and moving rapidly, and the federal administration (read: Bush) is unlikely to forget a lesson so recently taught. Unfortunately, I've seen nothing in the recent FEMA or Red Cross actions that indicate improvement in process.

The best news, though, is it’s only Wednesday. Lots of time yet for Rita to take a less fearsome track, or weaken. Fingers crossed…

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Watching Rita... from Katy

This really is an astounding turn of events. Just over three weeks ago, I was worrying about friends and family sitting in the path of Katrina. This evening, I'm watching another storm track toward me, here in Katy.

Current models seem to indicate that the center of Hurricane Rita will pass to the southwest of us, putting the Houston area on the dreaded northeast side. A track further east may possibly put us right in the eye.
The good news (and this is very good news!) is that in Katy, we're not sitting below sea-level, surrounded on all sides by water. The bad news is.... well... I don't know what to expect yet. This is from the latest bulletin from my email weather update:


Voluntary evacuations are also in progress this evening for low lying areas of chambers county, harris county, and the cities of houston, seabrook and baytown. Decisions concerning evacuations for other counties and communities will be made either later this evening or on Wednesday.

The SciGuy just posted a link to a site that projects damage estimates. Katy is listed in Waller County (I'm actually in Ft. Bend), and the projected wind speeds are similar to those of Galveston.

My understanding of those wind projections, btw, is that they were based on the strength of the storm earlier today. I expect these numbers will change, and not for the better. Significant strengthening is now expected, according to several sources, including MSNBC.com.

I'm relieved more than I can say that my Algerine houseguests left yesterday, headed back to New Orleans. This is about the last thing people who have gone through Katrina need.

Another Day in the Asylum...

I feel like I'm spinning in circles. If somebody doesn't give the leadership and officials a metaphoric smack across the face to relieve the hysterics, I think we're ALL gonna go off the deep end.

The quote below is from a comment just posted to the polimom forums - a response made directly to Jeff Arnold's helpful but clearly uncirculated clarification about the re-entry. (Do the people at the checkpoints have access to Polimom? How about the Mayor??? Obviously not...)

"Algiers Lockdown Separates Families"

As I returned from work last night at about 6pm, and got off at the Terry Pkwy exit, and saw the NOPD roadblocks. There were others in cars ahead of me, some of whom apparently had already come back to Algiers, had gone to Jefferson to shop or work, and were trying to get back to their family. NOPD was powerless to do anything but say "contact the mayor's office," and tell them to turn around. Who knows where they spent the night.

The poor timing of Mayor Nagin's inept lockdown - absolutely no warning - is now separating families from the only person who can evacuate them properly - the one with the vehicle.


There's more to this intelligently written comment. I wish somebody in charge would read it, although that's pretty unlikely, when it's obvious the inmates are running the asylum...

Can I Come Stay With You?

If this just don’t beat all. They finally give the green light for Algiers to go home, and it already feels like stealing home plate. Do you run for it? Or hunker down in the current “safe” location. Just at the moment, the answer to that question depends on one’s definition of safety, and the whims of the weather gods.

Rita is now a hurricane, but there is a bit of good news this morning. The NHC computer models have a slightly better outlook for the battered Louisiana coast, and also for the hosts of so many in the SE Texas area. As one of the many in the region trying to hang on to my sanity, I'm following the Chronicle's SciGuy blog - he's excellent, and occasionally prescient.

For those folks who are sheltering anywhere in the Houston area, though, it must feel somewhat karmic. This family, for instance, must be frazzled beyond belief (from the Houston Chronicle):

Just-settled family may have to flee again

Myself – I’m sitting in Katy, about 20 miles west of Houston. We’re unlikely to have any major problems here, and even if Rita runs straight up the ship channel from Galveston, we'll probably be okay. It’s a bit of a gamble, as ever. Maybe if Rita heads my way, I can go stay with folks in Algiers…?

Thank You Jeff Arnold

Yet again, State Representative Jeff Arnold has come through with an answer to questions about Algiers. I continue to be confounded by the almost complete failure of the rest of the elected officials to speak to this group of people.

So - later I'll go off on a rant. For now - here is Jeff Arnold's response to the question about Nagin's announcement yesterday (as posted in the polimom forums):

"Nagin's press conference does not apply to Algiers, However if Tropical Storm Rita becomes more of a threat there will be an evacuation of Algiers. I would guess that it would be mandatory if issued. So, here we go again but you can go home, you just might not be able to stay.
Jeff Arnold, Your Algiers State Rep."

Thank you, Representative Arnold.

Monday, September 19, 2005

An Update - Sort of...

I can't find anything, anywhere, about whether Algiers residents can continue to come home, now that the re-entry has been suspended. And as ever, there's nobody to ask. Here are the mentions I can find that seem most relevant to the situation for Algerines on the road, in the current press:

From NOLA.com:

"New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday urged residents to cancel any plans of returning to the city due to the threat posed by Tropical Storm Rita."

From WWLTV.com:

"Nagin also urged everyone already settled back into Algiers to be ready to evacuate as early as Wednesday."

My interpretation of all this (and it's merely my opinion) is - while they may not stop entry to Algiers coming up the West Bank Expwy. tomorrow, it may not gain much if they order an evacuation Wednesday. If you're somewhere comfortable and they'll put up with you another day or two, you might want to stay put. It will be very hard to find shelter anywhere on the Gulf Coast if they have to evacuate again.

If I get some official input that suggests some other course of action, I'll let you know.

Suspended Re-Entry

Once bitten, twice shy. There is absolutely no chance Nagin and the other authorities/officials are going to take any chances on Rita. Therefore, they've just announced that they're suspending re-entry into New Orleans.

As ever, I came away uncertain what that means for Algiers, which was opened just this morning. Can they continue to enter? Seems unlikely, yet some are already on the way, but haven't arrived yet. All I heard about those already there is that people who have already returned need to "be flexible". Hopefully some clarification will be forthcoming.

If Rita turns northward, Nagin said one of the projected trajectories suggests the storm could pass to the west of New Orleans, leaving the city on the more dangerous eastern side. Any sign of a northerly turn will likely result in a full evacuation (assuming they leave it that long).

So - everybody's playing the waiting game again...

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Sorry - I just couldn't resist sharing this story from WWLTV.com. Here's an excerpt:

"In a church-run assisted living home close to a heavily looted Wal-Mart in the lower Garden District, a team of guardsmen found new bicycles, stereos and clothing. Someone associated with the church, who refused to give his name, said at least seven rooms in the four-story residence were filled with goods believed to be stolen."

I really love the guy who was loading a moving van with cool new stuff. When asked about the 8-foot tall pile of auto parts, new motorcycle, and video game with pawn ticket still attached, he just had no idea where all those goodies came from!

What a bunch of idiots.

Livin' on the Edge

Barring divine intervention, some part of the Gulf Coast is going to have to deal with this next storm. Once Rita’s in the Gulf, that’s the only end game.

There have been debates ad nauseum about New Orleans’ exposure, and whether it makes sense to re-build on a site below the water surrounding it. These conversations aren’t just happening in the world press or popular blogs, either. I’ve had them on my own front porch with friends and neighbors.

No doubt about it, New Orleans is vulnerable – but are they the only ones? What would happen if Rita makes a bee-line for…say… Houston? As a Cat 4? At the right angle?

In February of this year, Eric Berger (the Houston Chronicle’s “SciGuy”), published an article describing what would happen with our own “perfect storm”. On the SciGuy’s blog this morning, he brought this up, and highlighted several relevant paragraphs, including this one:

"A landfall here would allow its powerful upper-right quadrant, where the waves move in the same direction as the storm, to overflow Galveston Bay. Within an hour or two, a storm surge, topping out at 20 feet or more, would flood the homes of 600,000 people in Harris County. The surge also would block the natural drainage of flooded inland bayous and streams for a day or more."

Not only that, but Houston is currently accommodating over 200,000 additional people, and everybody is helping to their absolute limit. I’m trying to visualize the emotional cost this would have on the hundreds of thousands of evacuees and existing residents, who are already stretched to capacity.

What, then, does this mean to those concerned about rebuilding New Orleans? Well... would they re-build Houston? For me, at least, it means that the world is full of dangers, whether man-made or natural, and every place has risks. California has earthquakes, the far North has blizzards, and the Gulf Coast has hurricanes. But all these places have cultures, and traditions, that cannot be recreated in a random environment. Their very locations, in fact, are what gave each its uniqueness.

So - we build smarter, we learn from mistakes, and we absolutely don’t give up. This next week, though, is going to be very tense for an awful lot of people.

The Homecoming

After three weeks, a part of the city is officially coming home today – “my” little corner of New Orleans. My imagination is on the road with them, right now, as they pass formerly familiar landmarks and see, at last, what the future will look like.

As they pass the checkpoints, they’ll have been handed the “Guidelines for Re-entry” – a grim document that seems more suited to a nuclear bomb site than a homecoming. Obviously written with an eye toward the East Bank of Orleans Parish, these guidelines will nonetheless bring the reality of the catastrophe into sharp, personal focus. For instance,

“Access to medical services is extremely limited at this time.”

Where will they go if a chainsaw slips and gashes a leg? How will they know that? Another indication of this new reality:

“…you may not be outside between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. either in a vehicle or on foot.”

Clearly, security will be very tight. Yet Algiers is not the East Bank, and the situation is much different. They have power, potable water, and soon (hopefully) schools. If any part of the city will be able to maintain the pulse, while the rest tries to come out of cardiac arrest, it is Algiers.

I’ll be watching, today, while CNN covers their re-entry, trying to match the faces on my television with the thousands of polimom readers, and looking for friends and acquaintances from years ago.

It is going to be a sobering, challenging homecoming. There will no doubt be many who will decide to leave, and I have no trouble understanding such a decision. In many ways, I think their road will be the hardest. For those who stay, though – I’m looking forward to meeting many of them when I come to visit…soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Me? Nervous? U Betcha!

I’ve never had second-sight – at least, not in the way I think of it. I don’t have premonitions of disaster, I've never found treasure buried by a miserly former property-owner, and I can’t solve a crime by touching the murder weapon. So why, when I read that a tropical depression is forming up in the Bahamas, does my stomach clench?

Tropical Depression 18. Sounds perfectly innocuous in the abstract, but hurricane watches have gone up already for the Florida Keys, and if things progress as currently predicted, TD 18 will become Hurricane Rita. From there, it just gets scary. CNN said,

Forecasters said the storm's projected path would take it through the Straits of Florida between South Florida from Cuba. By Wednesday morning, the storm could become a hurricane and move into the Gulf of Mexico.

People in Florida will absolutely understand this situation, and my helpless horror. They took it in the teeth again and again last year, and they’re still reeling. Yet as terrible as the damage was (and is) there, if New Orleans takes even a glancing blow, I can hardly begin to imagine the consequences.

As it happens, the National Hurricane Center currently projects the landfall to be in Texas. But as everybody along the Gulf Coast knows, hurricanes are capricious, and there’s no telling what this may (or may not!) become. I'm not panicky yet - I've lived too many years with hurricane threats to think the sky is falling every time it rains. I guarantee, though, that I'm keeping my eye on this one.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Schools too? NOW you're cooking!

Here's news to brighten the hearts of Algiers families.

From the AP, via
WWLTV.com's blog:

11:33 A.M. - (AP) Orleans Parish public school officials hope to launch the system's 2005-20006 term by November 1st on the West Bank, where a team of experts this week found most school buildings had sustained little storm damage.

The plan is to start registration of teachers and students on September 26.

Registration September 26? That's wonderfully ambitious! You're gonna be in business if this comes off the ground, Algiers!

Read the full article for more details, though. NOLA.com also has the story, with more information, here.

The Publicly Personal Katrina

Most of the media focus has moved past my little blog now, and I can finally go back to talking “to myself” (so to speak). It’s interesting that through it all I stayed the external point of contact for my Algiers “family” that I started out to be.

For the many thousands who, like me, have deep connections to the Gulf Coast region, the Katrina tragedy is an intensely personal story that has played out in front of a global audience. Events in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have been, and doubtless will continue to be, publicly personal - a bizarre oxymoron.

The experiences of my 'second family' turn out to be typical of the wider picture. Some of them evacuated before the storm, some left after, and several of them stayed. One of the evacuees, who could not initially be located, “found” me through this blog, of all things. He wrote to me late one night, in the midst of the chaos, to “check in”, having absolutely no idea he was writing to someone who had been searching for him for days. Amazing.

These folks have remained my touch-stone to Algiers over the many years since I left Louisiana, and I can’t begin to say how strange it’s been to read about some of them recently in the newspapers. Talking to them, whether face-to-face or by phone, gives a sense of intimacy that is obliterated by the interpretive media.

Take my “baby brother”, for instance. He grew up listening to me sing, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, and later watched (no doubt in horror) as I tried to find my feet as a young adult. I know I’ll always see him through a time warp, the toddling happy boy I called “Charlie Brown”.

That little boy long since grew up, and has now survived one of the toughest trials ever put to someone in his line of work. As his Chief put it in this BBC article,

"In the annals of history, no police department in the history of the world was asked to do what we were asked."

Now that the most severe danger has passed, I’m relieved and proud of him beyond words, even as I shake my head in chagrin (but not in surprise) at his language in a recent article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages. Note: This link contains strong adult language.

His mother, who has been my houseguest since 5 days after the storm, also had a survivor story. It, too, was described in the City Pages. Reading that story, and hearing it first hand, are much different. It took her nearly two days to reach my house in Katy, and to say it was a personal triumph for her understates it badly. She’d never driven by herself any further than the New Orleans airport, had just had surgery, and was bringing all her pets and a cello!

That cello, by the way, has rejoined the granddaughter who plays it, in Alexandria, where she and her family are rebuilding their lives. Like everyone affected by the storm, it's hard for them; new friends, new schools, new ways… They’re part of the larger Katrina story that will be told for years to come - a personal tale that belongs to the world.

Friday, September 16, 2005

"A" does not necessarily equal "B"

Being poor in New Orleans ("A") does not make one a criminal ("B"). Conversely, the criminals recently shown on TV were not necessarily poor. Assumptions are being made by the media and politicians that are based on flawed logic.

Nagin put the problem right on the table yesterday when he spoke directly to the criminal element, saying, “Don’t come back.” WWLTV.com ran the story, which included

“a warning to the criminals and drug gangs who used to dominate certain parts of the city Thursday, saying they aren’t wanted back.”

So who are these criminals? What are those parts of the city? They may not be who you think they are… and they have infested MANY parts of New Orleans.

There’s a lot of heated debate going on right now about the problems in the Crescent City. For some unknown reason, this is being treated as “news”. One would think nobody knew that the police, regardless of race, could not safely enter some areas at all. The police only enter those places in large groups.

I wonder if anybody recalls how Jo Ellen Smith Memorial Hospital got its name? I remember. That was Algiers, folks.

There is indeed tremendous poverty in New Orleans. It’s pervasive. But in and of itself, it is little different from urban poverty throughout the United States. And while New Orleans’ population is primarily black, there are also many other races who are poor. We all saw them on our televisions – but the poor, whether white or black, did not cause the violent breakdown of order after the storm.

If the criminal element is, as Nagin seems to think, not in the city right now, where are they? Watch the news – I’m sure you’ll hear about them. They’ll be the ones causing problems in their new locales. Not because they’re poor. Because they are violent, opportunistic criminals, and they've been increasingly dangerous in New Orleans.

Interestingly, I think Nagin may be right about the city being safer than it’s been for a long time. One of the many Algiers folks who went back in after the storm to help has been working in the “former” Fischer projects area. She and her husband have been doing amazing things there: rescuing animals trapped under debris, arranging transportation (via the military) for the ill or infirm to West Jeff. Med. Center, distributing food - you name it. And as she pointed out, a month ago, they couldn’t have safely entered the area alone.

The New Orleans poor definitely need the attention of society, as do the poor everywhere. What seems to be going unstated is that people have been afraid to do much. You could be killed trying to help. There's a hospital named for someone who tried.

However it was done, the criminal element, for now, does not seem to be present. I have no idea how to keep them from coming back, but I sure hope New Orleans can find a way. That will help the poor more than television hysterics ever will.

Thank You

Nineteen days ago, I started blogging about Algiers. That Sunday – August 28 – was when my childhood friends and “second family” set me up as the external Point of Contact for checking in after the storm. None of us expected that the aftermath of Katrina would engulf our lives so totally.

Over the past 19 days, thousands of people have visited the Polimom blog, looking for information about their overlooked piece of devastated Orleans Parish. New Orleans is a mysterious place to those who don’t know it intimately, and the media showed only devastation there, leaving thousands of panicked evacuees frantic for news. In that first week, information was almost totally unavailable, or just flat-out misleading.

Now Algiers is going home.

The information and discussions in the forums have turned to the “how” of the next steps; What to do about
schools? Insurance? The dratted refrigerators? The panic has passed. There’s a lot to do and think about, but before the next phase takes everyone totally away, I want to take a moment to say thank you.

To the people who stayed behind and rode out the storm, and their friends and families - Thank you for trusting me with your fears and hopes. The terrified phone calls in the middle of the night, the worried friends and crying parents with whom I spoke and tried to soothe – all of these demonstrated a faith, and a need, that humbled me.

To the people who strove to get information out – Thank you for helping your friends and neighbors. Those who stayed in or went back, those who are seeking information to share in the forums and/or providing technical support – you epitomize the term “community”.

Somebody asked me yesterday what I’ve been doing “for myself” over the last weeks, to keep myself sane. I was completely stumped by the question, and floundered. It wasn’t until I woke up this morning that I realized why. Helping you is, in fact, what I’ve been doing for myself. Thank you for filling my heart.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Monday Morning - Algiers!

Yup - just in case anybody isn't listening to the radio right now.... Monday morning they reopen Algiers.

More soon...

Update 12:44 pm:

WWLTV.com has more specifics.

Update:

WWLTV has a brief summary online here, courtesy of Brett Martel / Associated Press.

Other details of interest that I'll put out as they hit the wider news media include specific zipcodes (the mayor named them), and how they will handle the checkpoints. Any announcements from officials will be posted as we get them, in the polimom.com forums, here.

Time to get LOUD about Schools

WWL radio's ticker update, scrolling across the main page, is listing the most recent information about schools. I'm not at all surprised to see that Orleans Parish lists as "out for the year" - but it makes me angry nonetheless. What are they thinking?

Like many of you, I’m also a parent. Among many other things, that means I am continuously factoring the needs of my children into my decisions. It influences everything: where I eat, where I shop, and above all where I live. Because where one lives means friends, quality of life, and education. Schools.

Those people of Orleans Parish who (hopefully) can officially come back to their homes next week have a truly agonizing problem ahead. These areas, although not heavily damaged by flooding, or totally destroyed by the blast of Katrina’s rage, are part of a parish that has been crippled. Many people want to come home and help rebuild their communities and lives.

I was listening, just a moment ago, to WWL's live radio broadcast, and was pleased to hear an Algiers resident call in about exactly this problem: How can Algiers families come home without schools?

A letter published on NOLA.com, stated the problem clearly, in part quoted here:

"The closure of all Orleans Parish schools for up to an entire school year seems bizarre. How can a city exist without children? Isn't it obvious that many of the people we will need to restore our city - the sales people, the shop owners, the bus drivers, the restaurateurs, their staffs - are likely to be parents?"

No - a city cannot exist without children. A polimom reader was quite blunt:

"We operate our dental practice in Algiers and are concerned about rumors that the school board will cancel school this year. We want to strongly say that if we don't get the kids back we won't get many of the parents back."

One can’t be much more direct than this. As every parent knows, changing schools can be a painful experience, even in the best of times. These are not the best of times, and these kids have gone through a lot already.

If it’s true that Algiers schools are physically undamaged, then the officials need to step up and find a way to get these schools open. If the obviously broken school budget can't be used, then it is the State of Louisiana's responsibility to make this happen - and the electorate needs to make this clear.

Phased Repopulation - Announcement Today

Last night, there were many emails from folks who wondered whether the mayor had given the green light for an "official" return yet. The short answer is, "No", but Rep. Jeff Arnold communicated to you that an announcement will be made today.

This morning, CNN is reporting that Nagin's expected statement will define "a 'phased repopulation' plan Thursday that will bring 180,000 residents back into the city in the next two weeks."

I'm waiting with bated breath...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Eschew Obfuscation

The left hand has not been talking to the right, and there have been assumptions made all around.

Yesterday, as all surely know by now, Mayor Nagin reversed position abruptly by stating he would allow residents of the unflooded areas to return home. That was
released (near as I can determine) in the afternoon. Yet the Times-Picayune went to print yesterday stating that Algiers is open while the rest of the parish is closed. That page confounded me so completely, in fact, that I got up at 5:30 a.m. this morning, just to see whether the print version was pdf’ed and available that early. Yup – like most newspapers, they go to print very early in the morning.

So why did the paper say Algiers was open so many hours before Mayor Nagin’s “reversal”?

Odder still – yesterday, I had an email from someone who had copied/pasted an article that said, "The return, which the mayor hopes to launch early next week, would involve the French Quarter, Central Business District and Uptown, Nagin said. None of those areas were flooded. Algiers, which was also spared flooding damage, has been open since the storm and not subject to the mandatory evacuation that covers
the rest of the city."


That reader and I spent a great deal of time yesterday evening trying to relocate the article, but we found nothing stating Algiers had been open since the storm. Because that statement is not out there anymore, I hesitated to tell you about it – but it fits the larger picture so well.

This morning, NOLA.com has a
more comprehensive article about the return. It appears that some mental separation is taking hold about Algiers, but there is still some vagueness. Among other things, it sounds like the Mayor is non-committal about a firm date. There are statements like “Unflooded portions of New Orleans may be opened to residents as early as Monday” and “pending results of federal tests measuring the toxicity of the city's air and water”. Does that mean if test results are not good Uptown, Algiers won’t be opened?

Another statement that is interesting is, He plans to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.” The statement itself is pretty clear… but it follows a sentence about restoration of services on the East Bank. Will that then be parish-wide? One assumes so – but there have been far too many assumptions.

And just to cap off my morning tour of available information, will residents from the West Bank of Orleans Parish be allowed to enter Gretna to buy supplies while businesses try to resume in Algiers? It seems as if this should be a “no-brainer”, yet
another article this morning, by reporter Matt Scallon (again via NOLA.com), includes a statement from Aaron Broussard, who is quoted as saying, “Plaquemines Parish residents also will be allowed into the parish because Jefferson Parish is a major access route into the area.” Does Algiers need a separate statement, do you think?
(Update 9:33 am - I just posted an email from Rep. Tucker about Jeff. Parish roadblocks.)

Is it just my imagination, or are things still as clear as mud?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I'm Speechless

This is really amazing. Truly astounding.

In today's Times-Picayune (print version), Page 2, left column... under the Parish Updates... for Orleans.... it says:

"Algiers open; rest of parish closed."

You can view the image here: (You need the Adobe Reader.)

Remember that bus?

How About Monday?

From NOLA.com:

Nagin says some residents can return Monday

In a drastic revision of earlier predictions, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said today that he expects to begin allowing residents in areas that did not flood to return to their homes. Those areas are Uptown, Algiers, the Central Business District and the French Quarter. Potable water may be available in some of those areas by the end of next week, Nagin said

Well I'll be! How 'bout that?

More of the Same

Late last night, Representative Jeff Arnold posted an update. I know you'll all be stunned to hear that, "The City of New Orleans according to State Police is still closed."

An Algerine posted an excellent comment, which I've taken the liberty of quoting:

"My wife and I (and our 2 cats) evacuated to Texas where she has family. Our home is in Algiers Point, and I work for Pelican Publishing Company in Gretna. I have an entry pass for Jefferson Parish from Aaron Broussard to return to work at Pelican and help "Jumpstart Jefferson" after this Katrina tragedy. Mayor Nagin needs to realize that by keeping Algiers closed, he is working AGAINST the Jefferson Parish attempt to rebuild, since I'm sure I'm not the only Algiers resident who has a job waiting in a neighboring westbank town.

Mayor Nagin has enough problems on his hands without listening to the pleas of Algiers residents to return home.
He needs to realize that he will make more progress in rebuilding by letting people back into the areas that CAN be rebuilt. I hope that
Aaron Broussard will put pressure on Mayor Nagin to let those of us in Algiers who are vital to the Jefferson Parish workforce return and start rebuilding our LIVES."

Now, Jefferson Parish has enormous problems of its own, but whatever one may say for or against their leadership, there are some take-charge folks over there. From the most immediate chaos after the storm to today, they have been making proactive decisions. They have jobs starting back up and people have been in to secure their homes.

The parishes of the Greater New Orleans area are economically co-dependent, and as recent posts and comments are beginning to show, the ongoing confusion in Orleans is likely to have an impact on the surrounding efforts. I can't imagine the Jeff. Parish folks aren't concerned.

Monday, September 12, 2005

There's Nobody Driving the Bus!

I’m having a really bad dream. In my dream, I’m a passenger on a bus that is driving down an unfamiliar road. I don’t know how I got here. I know I didn’t buy a ticket for wherever we’re going.

The bus is full of people. They are standing in the aisles, and all the seats are all filled with older people and sleeping children. Every now and then, the bus stops and a few people get off.

In my dream, I struggle to make my way toward the front of the bus. It’s really difficult, because I have to step over and around people, and in the way of dreams, the bus seems to be miles long. Surely there can’t be this many people on a bus? Every person I pass calls out to me, “Where are we going?” and “Are we there yet?” I want to answer them, but I’m just as lost as they are.

At last I make it to the front of the bus, to the driver’s spot – only to discover that it’s the only empty seat.