Thursday, September 29, 2005

On the Ganges

We've spent the last couple of days next to the Ganges River in Varanasi. The boat ride yesterday down the river at dawn was one of the most special experiences I've had during my two trips to India. Life is out there on the river and it's not afraid to show it's face. Death is there too, bodies burning at the cremation ghats and a dead goat floating along in the holy waters.

Varanasi has been surprisingly tranquil compared to what we expected. We are staying in the very quiet Assi Ghat part of town. We are in a beautiful and inexpensive hotel that overlooks the river. There is a restaurant serving Middle Eastern food around the corner. Any place with a supply of pita and labnah has to have it's good points.

Tomorrow we make our last long-distance move across India. Varanasi to Calcutta. Unbelievable that that's it. Transportation in India has been an energy depleting venture. Crowded buses, dirty trains, men who take liberties, crazy drivers... you name it. The stand out good moments have been the car driver who took us to Fatehpur Sikri outside of Agra. He did not speed. He did not try to run over small children in the street. When it began to pour rain his windshield-wipers worked. He did not try to bring us to places we did not want o go. We loved him.

We also loved a bicycle rickshaw driver who is stationed outside Hotel Sheela in Agra. Sometimes he sports a Spiderman shirt. He is a superhero in his own right, cycling with such energy that it's hard to believe he's not on massive quantities of steriods. He will proudly shout his name as he cycles through the streets, "Bobby! Bobby A-cha-cha!" And he throws in Hindi lessons for free. "Chalo chalo! Let's go! Tata! Hello!" We loved him. He got massive tips.

Anyway, night train. Tomorrow. Last one. Hooray.

Speaking to my mother last night, it sounds like my parents have regressed somehow into their teenage years. Not missing curfew is of utmost importance. They were out on the other side of New Orleans a couple of days ago, trying to cross the Huey P. Long Bridge. Traffic was gridlocked and it took them a couple of hours to make it home. Curfew had passed and they thought they might be shut out of their part of the city. They wouldn't be the first people to spend the night in their car. Luckily my dad found a backway home with no check point.

Where they are living, life in a damaged city has started to feel normal. They don't notice the walls of dead trees anymore. Blue tarped roofs are becoming usual sights. They have adopted an old friend who is an "evacuee" from her home in Lakeview. They are visiting and eating a lot more often with friends who have crept back into the city.

It's the small things they miss. Mail. Bananas. Their pets in exile. The sight of children.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Taj

With the danger of hurricane monomania taking over this blog, it time to throw in some news about what Chris and I are doing besides watching the news and reading weather updates.

Yesterday we visited the Taj Mahal. It's been raining off and on in Agra for the past few days and we had been trying to time our visit to coincide with good picture taking light. The sun popped out from between the clouds for 30 seconds at a time. We got pictures of the Taj looking grey. The Taj in blinding white. Tonight before catching the train to Varanasi we'll try for the Taj draped in sunset pinks.

None of our photos are on-line yet. We're in a Windows '98 town and uploading onto the computers is not possible. Maybe in Varanasi. Or maybe in Calcutta.

Exactly one week from today we will be on a plane, flying to a SE Asian country that I'd rather not mention. It's a place that frowns upon free expression and the internet. Anyone remotely resembling a journalist or photographer is unwelcome. Not that we are officially either profession, but we probably come close enough for discomfort. We expect be out of contact with the world for 10 days or so.

So far we aren't exactly sure of how we are going to exit the unmentioned country. Plans were to cross overland into Thailand, but information about the border crossings is sketchy. We may have to fly. The goal is to figure it out once we are there, before our tourist visas run out.

But for now it's time for one last look at the Taj to see what color it is now...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

drains 'r' us

Last night I made one more phone call home. Message to parents: "Please fill up the bathtubs with water." My parents agreed, not because they were worried about becoming stranded in New Olreans with no water, but to humor me.

Their house lies on the westbank of the river and was not affected by the levee breaks from Hurricane Katrina. It isn't affected by the levee breaks happening again today thanks to Hurricane Rita.

Any flooding they would get would come from debris clogging the drains. They have apointed themselves official drain uncloggers for their area. The rain is falling in waves and they plann to be outside, clearing the street drains in-between showers.

One thing they said was that they were actually grateful to get some rain. The skies have been bone-dry for the past three weeks and the piles of dead trees piling up everywhere are very dry as well. All the dry timber has started making people nervous.

They have food. They have friends nearby. And they should have two bathtubs full of clean water. Just in case.

Friday, September 23, 2005

It is happening again...

I've had a giant's voice in my head all day. The voice belongs to a taller than tall man in Twin Peaks (the series, not the movie) who materialiazes out of nowhere to get Special Agent Cooper's attention. He has a warning.

"It is happening, again. It is happening, again."

The giant speaks of a supernatural evil named Bob. I'm thinking about hurricanes with Latina names.

The Texans and South Louisianians who have taken in so many people after Katrina don't deserve this. No one deserves this.

Where are my parents? Maybe in New Orleans. They were there the last time I spoke to them, trying to get the 10 remaining shingles to cover the hole in the roof. Clearing debris out the storm drains to help prevent another round of flooding. Their friends and belongings that had relocated to Houston were heading back to New Orleans to get out of Rita's way.

Today in the mirror, I noticed that instead of reddish highlights, the silver is becoming more and more pronounced. Feels like a lifetime since hurricane season began. Only sixty-nine more days to go.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Power Alternative

Jaipur, India

As tropical storm Rita churns into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to become a Category 4 hurricane, I think about all the problems people are having across the Gulf Coast because they have no access to electric power. If the latest storm slams into Texas or Louisiana as predicted, more people will be without power.

If I was anywhere that could receive a delivered package, I would order a small solar energy generator. In Europe you can buy small ones at the checkout counters in sporting goods stores and in Japan solar chargers are sold at the cash register in internet cafes. Maybe I've just been away too long, but I can't remember ever seeing a solar recharger for sale in a normal store in the US.

Looking on-line, one charger that seems to have a lot of potential is the iSun. One unit can charge mobile phones, PDA's, PDA's etc. and two connected togther are enough to power a laptop computer. Their manufacturer,ICP Solar, produces a range of solar products. Most products they don't sell directly but through their website it's possible to locate local distributors.

Seems like one of the lessons from Katrina regarding disaster preparedness is that you can't depend on one souce of power, especially if charged with the responsibility of providing emergency services. There were too many stories of agencies and people being cut off from communication and help because batteries died...

It's been sunny nearly everyday since the storm passed.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Fall Timbers

I talked to my parents on the phone yesterday. Essentially, our home has been attacked by trees.

There is one tree on the house. Two trees on the garage. A tree on the car. A piece of the roof is missing where a wayward branch smashed through and left a hole. An oak tree and a large tallow tree have migrated into our backyard from somewhere else. There is a towering wall of trees at the corner of the street, next to our house. The National Guard is piling them up, getting ready for the time someone will come in and haul them away. My father is adding to their pile, bit by bit as he cuts trees up into manageable pieces with his chainsaw.

The most worrying piece of information is about the roof. When my father was up in the attic, checking on the holes from trees and branches, he noticed that there was sunlight coming in from every direction at the place where roof should meet house. It's possible that the roof was lifted by the wind and dropped down again, slightly off kilter. It will take more intensive inspection to figure out what that is all about.

Good news is that the water that flooded their neighborhood was about half an inch short of entering the house. The car was parked in the driveway and its death is from drowning rather than the tree smashing. The pumps in their area never stopped working but the drains in the street clogged with debris causing the water to rise. Some houses in their neighborhood have evidence of flood damage, but it’s not nearly as severe as flooding in most of the city.

All that being said, my parents were able to sleep in their own house last night with the air conditioning running. They took hot showers, and thanks to three weeks with almost no rain, there is no serious water damage to anything in the house.

In the kitchen, the refrigerator has anindescribablee smell. Baking soda is the first line of defense. My mother got a tip from someone at a pet store about another product that can help fight the odor. Don't know what the trick is, but if it works I'll find out and pass it along.

One man who lives on the next street over rode out the storm. When the streets were flooded he rode around on a piece of fence, using a plank of wood as an oar. His daughter thought she saw our infamous dog loose in the street and so he set out food, just in case. It must have been someone else's pet. Hopefully it found the food. I think he's happy to see some neighbors, at last.

The National Guard is camped out at the elementary school a couple of blocks from where we live. At night, during the curfew, patrol cars light up the night with blue flashing lights. Officially, people will be allowed back to stay as of Monday.

Considering that my parents live in one of the areas of New Orleans least damaged by hurricane Katrina, I can't imagine what other people are going to be going home to.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Returning Home

Today Chris and I escaped the town of Pushkar. Escape is the correct word. The "push" in Pushkar could stand for "pushy." Don't want to waste any more words on that place.

We have made it back to the city of Jaipur, our Indian home away from home. I want to write a love letter to our hotel, Hotel Pearl Palace. It is so wonderful to stay in a place that treats its guests as human beings and not like wallets-on-legs. More about paradise another day because it deserves to be properly praised. We've been dreaming of returning each day of the nearly three weeks since leaving. We left the same day that Katrina hit New Orleans.

We're not the only ones to be experiencing a homecoming of sorts. Today my parents are on their way back to New Orleans. There is still the question of whether or not our house still exists. Yesterday my mother wrote:
When we left home on August 27, I predicted we would come back to find 2 feet of
water in the house, no roof, a flat garage, and a tree on the car we left. Any
damage less than this will make us happy.
I've been thinking a lot about home. Home as a building... Home as a city... Home as a state of mind...

After talking about it with Chris and with my family, I've decided to go home early. Instead of waiting for December, I'll try to get my flights rescheduled for the second half of October. There's a lot to be done in New Orleans. I want to go home.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

And now for something completely different... steal a line from Monty Python.

The Man Booker Prize's shortlist was announced a few days ago. Less than a month to go until this year's winner is revealed... Go Zadie...

This is a longshot, but if anyone out there in the blogosphere knows how to get in touch with the urban artist Space Invader, I have a proposition to make.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Thoughts From India

Today as we rode the "luxury deluxe" bus from Jaisalmer to Bikaner, I had some thoughts. In India, a luxury deluxe bus is one that has two seats on one side of the aisle, and two seats on the other side. There is some padding to protect your butt from the never-ending bouncing and shuddering. At some point in time, the luxury seats were able to recline. The windows open (or don't) to let in desert air in the heat of the day.

Today's deluxe bus started off with a normal amount of people inside. Thirty-five or so people for the thirty-five or so seats. The luxury deluxe buses never turn anyone down who wants a ride so the buses become increasingly full as the journey progresses. Tody's trip, after stopping at a massive festival to pick up more passengers, I'd guess we had 100+ people inside the bus and another 30+ on the roof. No one was complaining. We were just one of hundreds of buses, camel carts, tractor trailers, and heavy goods trucks loaded with human cargo today. And festival aside, it's a normal day.

Last week one of the many heartbreaking images on the television coverage of Katrina was of a solitary yellow school bus parked outside the Superdome. The image the camera transmitted was of the bus surrounded by hundreds of people waiting for rescue. As the camera pulled back, the hundreds became dwarfed by the thousands, all hoping to get on one school bus.

When, a couple of days later, the luxury air-conditioned buses finally arrived, I remember news reports saying it would take quite a while to evacuate 20,000 people considering each bus could only hold 35 people at a time.

Not so in India. The buses will take as many people who can cram inside. There's no complaining. The one thought is, "Just get us all where we need to go!"

This afternoon Chris and I watched a BBC special, The Reporters, about this week's coverage of Katrina. Since it's the BBC, we saw a lot of dead bodies. There were bodies floating in the water. There were bodies left on the pavement. There was a body in a house. Five children had flagged down the news crew. The BBC journalists were the only people the family had seen in the week after the flooding began. Their mother needed an inhaler to breathe. She didn't have one... so the children took the reporter to the body of their mother, laid out on her bed. The BBC rescued the children and a neighbor with their private boat. It was the only hope the people had.

Why share these unhappy stories?

After seeing the BBC special and feeling more than ever how urgent the problems are along the Gulf Coast, we came to an internet cafe to check messages and read the latest news. Filed away under "entertainment" on the AP Wire is a story about government attempts to limit the types of images and thus information that can be collected along the Gulf Coast. Access is being denied. I can't make a link to the story on this particular computer, but you can copy and paste to see how CNN filed suit against the US government to protect access to information coming out of the hurricane region.

People may not want to see horror, but they need to see a semblance of truth, horrific or not. Sanitized information helps no one.

Friday, September 09, 2005

It's raining, it's pouring...

We have power again. Last night the sky opened up above Jaisalmer and threw down torrents of rain and lightning bolts. When it rains here, the power short circuits. This morning, everyone was happy. There was a celebratory mood as people hung out their denched clothes and bedsheets. We asked the owners of the guesthouse how long it had been since the last time it had rained. The answer surprised us. "Six or seven years."

The news from Miyazaki, Japan, about Typhoon 14 is mixed. The prefecture was not hit as badly as it could have been, but there were deaths, landslides, flooding, and destruction of water purification plants. Miyazaki City is distributing information to residents on where water distribution stations will be located. Some residents may have their water supply reduced or cut off completely for the next few months as repairs are made. People living in high places are expected to have little or no water pressure. My former neighborhood, located on a hill on top of another hill, is one of the ones listed as water challenged.

Tomorrow we are going out into the desert by jeep and then camel. We'll see how the people of the Thar Desert live, without electricity, without much water, as they have for centuries, if not millenia. My guess is that it's not an easy life, but that it is sustainable. It helps not to depend on technological systems that are easily disrupted.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

For Franklin Folks

A website has been created to help the Ben Franklin High School community find each other in the aftermath of Katrina. Follow this link to register if you are a part of the community.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


So, if you accept the theory that there are five stages of grief, I have definitely moved into Stage Two.

1. denial
2. anger
3. bargaining
4. depression
5. acceptance

Even if you are of the school of thought that declares there are seven stages of grief, I'm still in Stage Two.

1. acceptance
2. anger
3. denial
4. depression
5. fear
6. guilt
7. shock

Seems like this second list is backwards.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Night Train to Jaisalmer

In a couple of hours we're getting on the night train to Jaisalmer. We're hoping it's better than our last night train experience. That time the train felt like it would derail in the night. strange motions that no train should make. Chris had 3 people in the berth where he was supposed to be sleeping. I was alone in my bed, but covered in soot and dead bugs that kept being blown through the open windows.

Just wanted to note that Chris's blog, Mochilero, has been discontinued. The service he was using was unreliable and pieces of his writing kept disappearing. His photos are still available. Check the link on the sidebar. His photos are excellent and all you are going to have a chance to see of our time in India for a while as I focus on other things.

Ok, that was a little break from all the storm news.

Also want to say thank you to everyone who has written to me directly in the last week. I'm trying to answer individually, but it will take time. Wanted to let you know that each email, kind word, piece of information, and good story has been greatly appreciated.

Love to everyone.

One Journalist's Perspective

Jodhpur, India

This is a message received back when New Orleans was still spiraling down through the circles of hell. I think it's still relevant because of the question asked at the end about the place of journalists in the disaster.

From this distant side of the globe, I'd have to say that the images they captured and the stories they sent out have made a difference. If it weren't for journalists, who knows how many more days it would have taken for the authorities to become aware of the people massing at the New Orleans Convention Center. When we (in India) first heard about the people gathering there on BBC World, the numbers were still only 2000-3000. Not the 20,000 they would become by the time help finally arrived.

This is the hardest thing I have ever covered. Maybe it's because I love New Orleans and have so many friends here and I see they are suffering. Maybe it's the horrible things I've seen in the past few days. I'm not just talking about dead bodies. I've seen plenty of dead people in my career as a crime reporter. It's the pain, the pain that is everywhere. I talked to so many people today, and I would guess 3/4 of them were 1) crying 2) had been crying or 3) teary eyed. I was interviewing one man today when another woman walked up to me, in tears, and said, "Can you write down my name? Because I don't think I'm going to make it." She had been waiting at the Convention Center to be evacuated, waiting for about a day. No food. No water. Then, she said, "I don't know where my husband and kids are. They went to a hotel for the storm but now people tell me the hotel is empty." So I wrote down her name and gave her a hug and tried to comfort her. But what could I do? It's making me cry just writing this.)

For me, this is worse than Iraq. Because there, the language barrier meant I was always a little bit separate. But I can understand every word people here say to me and it's killing me. Strangers come up to you and beg for water. They want to know where you're staying and if they can stay with you. Like the woman above, they want you to put their names in the paper so their loved ones can find out they're alive. And I feel helpless because I can't help them. One person was yelling at a photographer friend of mine the other day, saying he was exploiting people in pain, and he said, "Ma'am, this picture is going to go out to thousands of people and they need to know what you're going through. That's the only way you're going to get the help you need." Is that true? I like to think it is, but I don't know.

And let me wrap myself in the American flag but this is America and I expected Iraq to be primitive and tough but I did not expect this from the United States. Those tshirts they have -- Louisiana: Third World and Proud. -- should be burned after this. People keep asking, "Where was the National Guard? They always shore up the levees. Why aren't they here now, helping keep things calm?" Well, the answer is the Louisiana National Guard is in Iraq. According to a recent news story, they were helping rebuild the wetlands there. Meanwhile, the Louisiana wetlands are disappearing rapidly and provide no protection for the coast. A federal bill to get the state more money to fix that failed.

Another thing that makes this job hard: No electricity, which means no a/c and no computers. Cell phones are useless inside the city but I can sometimes text. Landlines are sporadic at best. So there's no communication. I can't just call someone and get a quote, can't call one of my colleagues to find out where they are. The water in most of NO was turned off today, meaning no flushing toilets.

And it's getting very dangerous here. The looting is out of control. People are hot and angry and it's only going to get worse.

It's funny: tonight, for the first time, I saw some of the national news coverage of this. And I had no idea. I've never seen any of the photos and I'm so far from the big, overseeing picture.

Miyazaki-Gulf Coast Connection

This is a message posted to the Miyazaki email group in Japan where I used to live. Wes is originally from the Gulf Coast but now teaches English in Miyazaki City. He has a lot of friends and family who were affected by Katrina.

My friend katie ended up at the superdome. She broke into the snack bars to get people water. That night the national guard told her and her friends that they were bugging out and that they should to. Katie had a sprained ankle at this point so her
friends stole a shopping cart(no tolerance for looters right) and pushed her across the I-10 bridge. They feel bad having gotten out though. They are of the opinion that if they had been 12 black people trying to flee to jefferson parish they would have been shot. Everybody who got out feels guilty.

the family staying at my house are cajuns from st. bernard parish that my mom found crying in the bank. They are a family with two daughters and an 82 year old father. They fled to mississippi with everything they could get in their car. The storm turned and hit them and they lost the car. They were trapped in the hotel room full of water mocassins. they then got a rental car and headed to florida. the hotel charged $90 a night and then kicked them out because it is labor day weekend.

my friend jesse is a jazz pianist in NO and is holding fish frys for the survivors in houston. he isn't going back.

my friend ryan got to baton rouge before the storm and made it all the way back to metarie after the storm to rescue his cats. he isn't going back.

my friend chad, who has spent years teaching at inner-city schools in san francisco and knoxville finally got a job at a cushy catholic school in houston. it is now a refugee camp. the teachers went in together and got a helicopter and were pulling people from office building roofs.

my mom (who works at the post office) tried to organize a convoy of postal vehicles to go in with water but there was no way in from the east.

500 private boats left from florida to help but couldn't get in. 500 private boats from lafayette made it all the way onto I-10 downtown and were told by FEMA to go home.

people in mississippi have been stricken with dysentery

in pensacola there is no gas. people are stealing bikes and siphoning gas from other cars. my friend described it as "mad max."

my step-brother and i are on a red-cross waiting list to get into the city to work. i don't know what i'll do if they call. i mean, i'll go i just don't know what the ramifications will be for my employment here. but i can drive boats and have an urban planning degree so maybe i can do something. i have also put in my resume with habitat for humanity. houston schools and florida schools are also probably looking for emergency teachers as everywhere is overwhelmed with refugees. so i am looking into that.

my godfather made it back to what was left of his house and said about all that was left were three pictures of me, which i find to be rather strange.

i'm telling you all this not because my friends need your sympathy but everyone needs to realize that these people are the lucky ones. this situation is so fucked up i can't even comprehend it. all the government had to do was ask for help and everyone would have been there. it is really unbelievable. it reveals what a fake southerner george bush is. like a redneck ever needed an excuse to go charging through a flood in his boat. all they had to do was ask.
- Wes

Typhoon 14

There are three cities that I consider home. New Orleans is where I was born and raised. That will always be where I'm from and "home" no matter where else i may live. The second city is Mexico City, el D.F. It may have a reputation for being dirty and dangerous, but it's my favorite mega-city. I'd be happy to live there again someday and finally learn how to conjugate the more pesky of the irregular verbs. Finally, there is Miyazaki in southern Japan. People in Miyazaki feel the same way about their city that people in New Orleans do. it may be in the deep-south, people might make fun of the way people talk there, but it's a great place to live.

News from Miyazaki today is that the powerful Typhoon 14 (aka Typhoon Nabi) has hit very hard. There have been landslides. People are missing. The Oyodo River that flows through the center of Miyazaki City is at its highest level in history. The residential areas alongside the river have been evacuated. News coming out is not much so far.

It feels like I'm going through Hurricane Katrina again, only this time on the other side of the Pacific. At least Miyazaki is not below sea level. That's the ray of silver lining.

Please let nothing disastrous happen in Mexico too...

Message from my Mother

Dear Family and Friends,

We have moved into our borrowed home, a beautiful loft apartment on the 16th floor of a downtown Houston building.

The cat and dog are living with Jeff in Austin, an amazingly dog-friendly town. Some lagniappe (New Orleans word for "a little something extra") is that Jeff reports the dog to be a chick magnet.

When we checked out of our Austin hotel, we had been billed $29 a night.

Lee received an e-mail from the scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop sponsored by a Methodist church in Virginia. He had found the web site of Lee's troop
and said his Virginia troop wanted to offer their help in any way they could.

Jennifer's wonderful blog has been so helpful in giving us the news about the people and places that we love.

Dozens of people that we know, and many that we don't, have offered us a place to live.

Our nephew and youth pastor Michael said that next summer his youth group would like to come to New Orleans to help with rebuilding.

My sister has found me a really tempting project in Michigan, organizing children's books in a school library. (That is a delightful cluster of all my favorite words.)

Today Lee and I went to the Astrodome to see if we could do anything to help, and we were told that they already had more volunteers than they knew what to do with.

I am convinced that for every ugly, evil act that we have seen on television, there are a thousand more of kindness and generosity.

Love, Linda

YA YOU RITE! Call me crazy, but I wish I could dress up from head to toe in K&B purple. In India, I would not look the slightest bit out of place.

Southern Decadence marched through the streets of the French Quarter yesterday. It was only a krewe of about a dozen people, but they were second-lining with parasols. French Quarter residents camped out in their apartments threw Mardi Gras beads down to the paraders.

The city will survive.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Numerology

Statistics are always selective, but here are a few to try to put the devastation of Katrina in perspective.

a few is the number of days a human can survive without water

5 is the number of days it took to get drinking water to survivors of Katrina in downtown New Orleans

30 is the percentage of people in New Olreans living below the pverty line

30 is the percentage of Louisiana National Guard members who are out of the country on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The percentage is even higher for Mississippi

36-80 is the number of days needed to pump water out of New Orleans

60+ is the number of foreign countries offering aid to the US

91 is the number of today’s expected high temperature in Biloxi, Mississippi (32C)

92 is the number of today’s expected high temperature in New Orleans, Louisiana (33C)

92 is the number of today’s expected high temperature in Gulfport, Mississippi (33C)

1100 is the number of doctors Cuba is offering to send to help in the crisis

9,500 is the number of people rescued by the Coast Guard in the first five days after the hurricane

10,000 is the number of people estimated to die in New Orleans if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane ever hit the city (estimated in distaster preparedness infomation distributed in the Times Picayune newspaper several years ago)

25,000 is the number of dollars being offered in aid from the tsunami ravaged country of Sri Lanka

54,000 is the number of troops to be deployed in Louisiana and Mississippi

92,000 is the number of people in Red Cross Shelters across 9 states as of yesterday

220,000 is the number of evacuees in shelters and hotels in Texas

1 million is the number of people made homeless across the Gulf Coast

120,000,000 is the number of square kilometers decimated by Katrina, which is an area large than Great Britain

14 billion is the number of dollars estimated in 2001 to bring the Louisiana levee system up to strength to handle a Category 5 hurricane

25 billion is the number of dollars Hurricane Katrina is expected to cost in damage

43.6 billion is the number of dollars Miami’s Hurricane Andrew cost the US economy in 1992

100 billion is the number of dollars Hurricane Katrina is projected to cost the US economy

incalcuable is the cost of the suffering of so many

More People Who Are Safe

Here are the names of some more people who have evacuated safely.

Cameron, Maura, and Barbara MacPhee. Cameron and Maura are going to be relocating to Conneticut for a while. Will post a message from them at the end of this list.

Margaret Murray's mother Mary.

As for zoo people, I have gotten information that most of the zoo and aquarium employees are safe and accounted for. If there is someone in particular that you are worried about, please let me know the person's name and I will check to see where they are. Audubon Institute staff have scattered all over the country to stay with friends and family. Remaining behind in New Orleans is a core group of people working at each of the facilities, they are checking on enclosures, making sure animals don't escape into the community, and trying to keep thousands of animals alive. Assistance is making it's way to the facilities as zoos and aquariums internationally are coming together to help.

The Audubon Zoo is my second home. I started volunteering there when I was 16, and the people I've worked with are my second family. It's good to hear positive news that people got out and the staff staying behind are managing.

This is a message that Cameron and Maura have asked people to share.

September 3, 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and support. It has been moving to see how many people have opened their homes, hearts and wallets so willingly and with such grace. Tragedies do bring out the best in people. Here is our story and a suggestion for how you can help.

Cameron first heard about the need to evacuate Saturday morning. I had gone to get my hair done and the salon was buzzing with excitement and fear about the huge storm approaching. He called me at the hairdressers and that is when I knew it was serious. Even though there have been many other hurricanes for which Cameron and I had not evacuated, this one seemed different. Many of our New Orleans friends who usually stay were packing. After many New Orleanians got stuck evacuating for Ivan last year, we thought it would be best to leave as early as possible. We bolted the doors and screwed shut the windows. I think we were in denial and that is the only reason why we didn’t board up our windows. We took in the plants and packed two changes of clothes, the bills that were due, and some important paperwork. As I was walking out the door I grabbed our wedding scrapbook and the disks of pictures. I thought to myself I should grab Cameron’s father’s kilt and a few other precious items, but because of time, space in the car, and pure denial- I didn’t. Our possessions fit in a paper bag. We grabbed Jake, and drove over to Lowerline St. to convince Barbara, one of Cameron’s moms, to leave.

We took River Road to Baton Rouge thinking we might find lodging there. We hit minor traffic jams due to other people heeding the call to leave. The hotels in Baton Rouge were already full. In fact the closest available rooms were in Houston. Houston is about six hours away. We got to Houston about 11 pm and stayed at the Doubletree downtown- as luck would have it they took animals! Jake was happy. In fact most people in our hotel were happy. They had gotten out without too much traffic and able to watch the storm approach with a drink in hand.

Sunday came as did many more people from New Orleans with their pets. The storm was worsening; people were quiet. We stayed glued to the television. All of the reports said that the storm was worse than we thought and we realized that we had only booked two nights- thinking we would be on our way back to New Orleans. The hotel was not only sold out, but the rates were raised to $229, a big jump from the $99 deal we had at first. I have to say that they did help us find another hotel in the area- the Hilton down the street was offering a “Hurricane deal”. The price was right, and we were a little desperate so we booked three nights. We woke up many times throughout the night checking the TV. Katrina landed around 6 in the morning. We sat glued to CNN until check out at noon. We had three hours to kill before we could check in at the Hilton along with 2000 other people from New Orleans- no exaggeration. The hotel was enormous and also pet friendly. We saw kids with their turtle collections, birdseed in the elevators, all types of cats and dogs. The kids in the hotel were loving life- swimming in the pool, no homework, and no idea of what was really happening.

We love the people of Houston. Josephine’s, an Italian restaurant, was giving 30% off with Louisiana identification. If you had a LA, MS, or AL license plate, you could park free, and the city allowed Louisiana residents into all sporting events free, even the Comets playoff game. This was all very nice and kind, but no one really felt like doing anything except watch what was happening to their home. The mood in the hotel changed from a party atmosphere to somber disbelief. People were zombies, eyes red, quiet and not sure of anything. People were crying in the lobby. Everyone clambered for any little bit of information, about property and loved ones. No cell phones were working. And then the levee broke. And things became worse. People kept arriving at the hotel from New Orleans with awful tales of their own. We found an internet café and started checking and both great sources of information. We looked in the New York Times newspaper and saw pictures of people we know guarding their property with sawed off shotguns. New Orleans was a different world. We read about a man shot in the head who had been laying in the street for days- a few houses down from where we live. The stories have been heart wrenching. And scary.

It sounds as if our neighborhood (amazingly!) is dry! We might have gotten a little bit of water, but I don’t think it flooded our house. I imagine we have broken windows, and hopefully only part and not the entire roof is gone. (It needed a new roof when we bought it). Since our home is a true fixer upper, it doesn’t have much curb appeal, so I don’t think anyone walking around the neighborhood would choose it to loot. Barbara’s house is in the same part of town, and we think it is also dry. We are in the Tulane neighborhood and although some streets nearby flooded with 4 feet of water I think our house is raised just enough. On Wednesday we couldn’t afford any more hotels and from all of the news reports it sounded like it was going to take more and more time to repair and drain New Orleans. Barbara got a flight to Santa Fe to stay with friends and Cameron and I drove to Austin where we have been staying with my good friend Sasha (one of my bridesmaids) and her fiancé Sergio.

Today we went to Bank One where Kat P. helped us tremendously contacting insurance agencies, credit card companies and mortgage brokers. She offered us pizza and suggestions for cheap places to eat- as she had been doing to all dazed and confused New Orleanians streaming in (our bank in New Orleans isn’t even Bank One). We went to Marshall’s to buy some underwear, and we met a wonderful couple who offered us a place to stay, updated news and good old fashioned concern and well wishing. All of this has made me feel that you might not be able to rely on the government for help, but there are good, good people out there.

So here we are only one week into this- it seems like ages. School had already started for me, and I’m worried sick about my kids. Many of them were probably at the Superdome. Many people from our wedding came up from New Orleans and most of their houses and belongings are gone. Our school is flooded. It is hard to think of 9 years of my work and lessons and disks and books and binders- gone. It is most difficult, however, to see our beautiful city torn apart and so full of human suffering. Material possessions are just that, but thinking of children, fighting uphill to survive even before this storm, makes me angry and sad that they are once again the hardest hit victims.

I believe that one day things will be “back to normal” in New Orleans, but I worry about the good people at the Superdome and the Convention Center who will be scarred from this thinking the country didn’t care and what that will do to race relations in the city. I also worry about evacuees, the pulse of the city, who will have moved forever, gone to a new city, new life. The hot humid days will have more than the sexy, sultry air that movies portray, but also the heaviness of suffering and the weariness of life.

Cameron and I are moving to Connecticut for a time. However, we eagerly await the signal that it is time to come back and help rebuild the city. And when Mayor Nagin comes on TV and welcomes us back, people will come. Together the city will be rebuilt a stronger city. Maybe it will be used as a fresh chance to start again in terms of equity in public schooling and in housing. It was amazing to see that the day after the fierce winds of Katrina died down, and her fury grew tired, the sun still rose and set. It was a beautiful Louisiana sunset- huge sun, flaming, red orange rays through cypress trees- and it was calming. I believe in people and in perseverance of spirit, and in courage and willingness to build again.

Many people want to help and have asked if they can give us money. We are grateful for this offer. Our house is insured, and mortgage agencies and credit card companies are granting reprieves. My students, however, are not as fortunate. Instead of giving to us, we ask that you donate instead to “Middle School Advocates” (This is the board that runs our school. It is a separate entity from the regular Orleans Parish Public School system.) or “New Orleans Charter Middle School” (this is where I teach 7th grade and where Cameron worked for almost 2 years as a building manager. Dr. Anthony Recasner is the executive director of the board and director of our school. Many of you met him at our wedding. This is a not-for-profit organization and your donations are tax deductible. Given the current conditions in New Orleans, mail isn’t being delivered to New Orleans, so we ask that you send it to our temporary CT address and we will hand deliver it to the school when we return. Thank you so much for your love and generosity.

Maura and Cameron

If anyone wishes to donate, I will put you in contact with Maura and Cameron.

See Arial Photos of Katrina Damage

This is an amazing link for people trying to see what is left of their neighborhoods.

There are no photos available yet for the neighborhood of my parents or childhood friends, but the Algiers photos closest to where we live make it look as if there has been very little damage from wind and standing water in the streets. That's a little piece of good news for some of you out there worrying.

Friday, September 02, 2005

More News

The following people safely evacuated:

Vatanna Gaines' family from New Orleans East are headed up to join Vatanna and Katherine.

Michelle LaFleur's family evacuated.

Richard Monterosso and his family.

Latest news on the core group of zoo employees is that everyone is ok but low on food.

There are a lot of things I want to post that people have sent, but the computer is having problems and crashing. I will be on a bus all day tomorrow. May post again in 24 hours. Here's the text of one of Natasha's comments from yesterday.

I have just spoken to my mother who has flown back to Baton Rouge to get her boyfriend, James, and pets out of Louisiana. We are going to do everything we can to get her out of there; we'll even fly to Baton Rouge and drive her out if we have to. She is tired and upset but all right. James and her animals are all right too- the hotel where they are staying will not let the animals in the room. The animals (5 cats, 1 dog) are spending the day in the van in cages in 100 degree heat. They sneak them in to the room at night to clean them up. James has been afraid that the hotel will kick them out because of the animals. There are so many people looking for rooms that they would and could.

Most scary is what I've just heard from a friend of ours still in Algiers Point. I spoke to him on the phone when I was looking for my mom. He said there is an armed militia in the Point and that there has been gunfire and bloodshed. There is a zone from the bus barn to Belleville school that is being patrolled and is considered fairly safe. He said they just heard gunfire there so they think they shot a looter. There are helicopters flying overhead all the time.

He said that Oakwood mall is burning down to the ground. There was a problem with people camped there. There was not enough water pressure for the police to put out the fire so they are just letting it go.

He was reluctant to leave and was trying to tell me that it is not so bad. He said they have running water but they could use more food supplies. He said there is a guy in the "Algiers Point Militia" who wore camoflauge and had night vision glasses and who was patrolling the area at night. He said that it is like the movie BladeRunner.

- Natasha

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Links

Here are some links to follow if you are looking for more information.

How You Can Help

American Red Cross
Network for Good
Locating People
"I'm Okay" Forum
Tell Them You're Ok
for Someone Forum

Missing Persons

Local New Orleans News Media
WWL-TV Channel 4 (TV)
WDSU Channel 6 (TV) (comprehensive local information)

For the status of staff and locations for the Audubon Nature Institute. The American Zoo and Aquarium Zoological Association has a hurricane update page that it adds to as information comes in.

Message from My Parents

Today my parents sent this letter out to friends and family.

Hello, everyone.

We are devastated by the news coming from New Orleans,
but very grateful to be watching it on television in
Austin instead of seeing it firsthand. We left on
Saturday with the cat and dog, two bags of clothes,
the computer, some Important Papers, 8 photo albums,
and a few things that Jennifer and Jeff asked us to

Our house is in the part of New Orleans that is on the
Westbank of the Mississippi River, across a big bridge
from the main part of the city. The news we are
getting from message boards and e-mails is that our
neighborhood has wind and structural damage, but no
severe flooding. We have no idea when we will be
allowed to go back to see what is left.

A million thanks to everyone who has written to
express kind words or offer us a place to stay. A few
minutes ago someone in Houston told Lee that an
apartment and an office are available for him and his
business partners and families. Two things I NEVER
thought I would ever hear us say---

Linda: I LOVE my cell phone!
Lee: I want to live in Houston.

That's all the news for now.
Lee and Linda

Today I spoke to my parents for the first time since they evacuated. We've been communicating via email, but it's so much better to hear each other's voices. They have been in Austin since leaving New Orleans, but tomorrow they will head first to Houston and then later to family friends in Lafayette, LA. The cat will stay behind with my brother. The dog will go where my parents go.

The dog is not enjoying being cooped up in Jeff's small apartment. From the sounds of things she has been busy destroying it in an attempt to get out. She has a long history of peeing on the carpet when she's not happy. Kind of like me when I was four years old and thought it was a good way to blackmail my parents. It wasn't. Didn't work for me, doesn't work for her.

Regarding my mother's comment about loving her cell phone, my parents (Singular subscribers) are not able to receive incoming calls but they can receive text messages and make outgoing calls. This might be the case for other people with service from Singular. If you are trying to locate someone and they have a cellphone, try sending them a text message. It may work.

Thank you to everyone who has written to express their concern. It means so much to to all of us. Hearing jokes and happy stories keeps us sane. With all the tales of destruction and bad behavior on TV, it's important to hear good things too.

On the phone, my parents told me about from people from Metairie staying in their hotel. The couple was talking at a table in the hotel's restaurant and from their conversation it was clear that they were from Louisiana. A young couple was sitting at the table next to theirs, finishing their dinner. The young couple left before the couple from Metairie finished their dinners. When thepeople from Metairie asked for the bill, the waitress told them that the young couple had quietly taken care of it.

Second good story from my family was about something they saw on television. A man from the Desire housing project was carrying a young girl through flood waters to the safety of a road upramp. After he set her down, a reporter approached the man and asked him if he had made other trips carrying people from Desire. The man said the little girl was probably the 28th person he had carried through the water. As the reporter was still interviewing him, the man broke away. He had seen a woman struggling in the water. The camera continued rolling as the man grabbed her and her cart of belongings. Thanks to him, a 29th person was safe.

A sense of normalacy is also important to helping all of us get through this. Today Chris and I took painting lessons. There is a man where we are staying who teaches Indian minature painting. We spent all day with him, hunched over our boards, trying to bring an elephant and a camel to life. It was supposed to take our minds off things for a few hours and it helped. After seeing so much destruction, an act of creation was good medicine.

Lord of the Flies

First, the good news:

Walt and Elizabeth Burgoyne are safe and in Atlanta.

Leo Laventhal and family are safe in Texas.

The Heck's (Laura's parents and brother Scott were just RESCUED from downtown.

Still no word from ANY zoo folks. Previous emails that I sent to individuals with the address all failed and were returned. If anyone has personal email addresses for zoo staff, please pass them along.

Now for the not so good news...

The situation in New Orleans is starting to sound too much like the plot of the novelLord of the Flies. Just received this from Laura about her family's escape from downtown. Her father was essential personnel and could not evacuate the city...

"Today has been the most emotional day for my family since the storm hit. When I got back from my lunch break today, I had a hysterical message on my voice mail from my mother saying that the looting had gotten so bad in downtown New Orleans that Bellsouth couldn't assure their safety anymore and was evacuating everyone out of the building. She didn't know where or how they were going. I luckily had a line directly to my dad's office, called it, miraculously someone answered and told me they were awaiting state troopers to be escorted in convoy to Baton Rouge.

Over the next several hours, I worried, prayed and made lots of phone calls. Anyway, I got an email from my cousin Sandy in Baton Rouge around 6 p.m. saying that they had arrived safely at the state police headquarters on Airline and she was headed there to pick them up. I spoke with mom and dad (Scott's with them also) about an hour ago and they're really shook up. They said they watched armed looters overtake buildings all around them this morning. They could hear gunfire. They had run out of food this morning and even though they had been promised more food to be brought to them by the company, it hadn't arrived yet. The sewer system inside the building finally failed this morning and water was slowly rising around the building (although reports that it was 9 feet deep were inaccurate. Mom said it had reached the base of the building, but hadn't come in the building yet.)

But the biggest problem was that no national guard had been sent to protect them. Seeing that the Bellsouth building in downtown New Orleans is the Homeland Security headquarters and controls all communications for southeast Louisiana and Mississippi, that's a big deal. They kept waiting for the protection to arrive and it never did, so finally Bellsouth's president arranged for private buses to come in and get their people out. The fear was that once night fell, the looters would force their way into the building because they could see that it had power. They ran out while armed state troopers protected them so they could get from the building to the buses. They left the generators running and dad says if they don't get to go back into the building with protection before the generators use up all their fuel (or are destroyed by looters), all the phone lines, bank alarms, etc. in the two states will go down entirely. They drove all the company utility trucks in the convoy to Baton Rouge - my dad drove one of them with mom and Scott with him.

Mom said they watched as looters siphoned gas out of vehicles parked in parking garages downtown and on the streets, ripped out the batteries, etc. Dad left his van parked at the New Orleans Center, but doesn't expect it to be there when they get back. Mom said someone's probably living in it already. The convoy went over the Crescent City Connection, up the Westbank Expressway and through Luling to get to Baton Rouge. There were hundreds of people walking across the bridge (and pushing others in wheelchairs) because they didn't want to go on the buses the state was bringing to the Superdome to transport people to the Astrodome in Houston. Mom fears they'll start breaking into people's homes on the Westbank, which is dry, to seek shelter. All of the businesses there have already been looted. One police officer was shot in the head on Gen. de Gaulle when he came up on some looters at one of the gas stations. There's no food or water on the Westbank either, so who knows what they're thinking.

Mom said I needed to use my media influence to get the word out about the lack of protection... Anyway, I'm sorry to be so glum, but I wanted everyone to know what's going on. Please keep up the prayers." Laura
Please, don't anyone try to go back to the city.