Sunday, September 04, 2005

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.


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