Cider Press Hill

The phone call

Monday, 12:08 am

Holy geez. The lad finally called after a hard day’s work that just ended.

Between the airport and the place where he’s bunking, the driver (Sarah) took him on a tour of the 9th ward and other areas. And they went into the French Quarter to grab a bite to eat before they came back to work. He said, “The French Quarter isn’t quite like you remember it, Mom. It’s pretty bad. They only show us the good pictures on TV.”

As for the rest of what he saw he said, “Think of the worst war zone pictures you’ve seen. It’s 100 times worse.” There are no people. Streets are deserted. Houses are piled up one on top of the other. Other houses are half toppled over. It stinks. Trees are dead skeletons, what’s left of them. It goes on like that for miles and miles and miles and miles. There are a few FEMA camps scattered here and there, but the trailers are being repossessed on July 30. The rest of the people who were to get them—and still haven’t—are, in the lad’s words, shit out of luck. After July 30, they are all on their own.

Nothing much has been done down there. It’s as if, after the cameras and lights went home, the place was forgotten. The people who are there to reclaim their homes, are at a loss what to do—the insurance companies are screwing them left and right. Settlements fall far, far short of what is needed to rebuild.

The volunteer outfits are having a hard time staying upbeat. Habitat for Humanity and AmeriCorps are also bunking in the school where he is staying. AmeriCorps may be getting their funding pulled soon. That’s a big worry on everyone’s tongue. There is so much devastation and too few people to do what needs to be done. They don’t have a lot of confidence that the place will ever be rebuilt for the people who lived there. But they are trying. They have until July 30 before ungutted houses are slated for demolition, regardless of what the owners want. They need more volunteers because no one else is there. The gov’t is conspicuous by its absence.

The volunteers are still finding dead bodies. They end up not being counted if no one claims them. The authorities issue no death certificates and there’s no attempt to identify them. They are not counted as among the dead. From what he’s being told (his co-workers, wearing full hazmat gear, are still finding bodies in the buildings they go in to gut), there are countless numbers who have been dealt with that way. The death toll is way higher than what we’ve been told.

It was a depressing phone call. But he’s happy to be there helping. It’s just that there aren’t enough people there to do what needs to be done, nor enough money to do it. He has aged in less than a day. The enormity of the devastation is overwhelming. 

Posted by Kate on 06/1906 at 12:08 AM

I am on the run, so this is quick....maybe, with his permission, you can send this to the newspapers. Or maybe one of them would be willing to have him write about this when he returns, or something.  I am sure many of us have suspected this was so, but now there is proof--and this only after having been there a few hours.  The news stations need to get back in there and report the truth.  What can we do???

Posted by cyn on 06/19  at  07:57 AM

I did see a story on FoxNews about a man found recently. It gave a count of how many have been found. But hearing it from the lad’s perspective is much more reliable.

Posted by Sue on 06/19  at  08:50 AM

Holy geez, indeed.

This distressing report really does need to be disseminated more widely.  With the lad’s and your permission, I’d be willing to submit it as a DailyKos diary.

In a chilling message, here’s what I find the most chilling part:

They have until July 30 before ungutted houses are slated for demolition, regardless of what the owners want. They need more volunteers because no one else is there. The gov’t is conspicuous by its absence.

Why is that the worst for me?  Because I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the government will show up promptly on July 30 with bulldozers aplenty, ready to clear swaths of land to give away to their big-money, big-contribution partners in crime.

Posted by N in Seattle on 06/19  at  09:55 AM

I think I’d wait a bit before casting the story far and wide, N. Yes, it needs to be told, but I also may be telling stories out of turn, so to speak. Because the volunteers there are relying totally on outside funding, I think the (politically incorrect) information may need to be disseminated carefully. (Things are obviously NOT getting better there in any measureable form.) AmeriCorps is already under threat of yanked funding. And FEMA pulled funds from the volunteer groups at the end of May. I’d bet heavily that there are some powerful people who’d like nothing more than to get everyone out of there sooner rather than later.

When FEMA pulled funds from tent city (close to NO and the 9th ward) that housed the nearly 1500 volunteers, they quickly scrambled and the President of St. Berhard Parish secured the school as their new quarters. With totally volunteer effort, construction turned the school into a habitable place for them to set up operations. The school is in the middle of a field seven miles outside the city.  It’s not as convenient for the residents. No one still seems to know why that was necessary. Take a guess, is my sense.

Some of the volunteers who have returned have posted pics on flickr and there’s a lot being said between the lines, but not directly. It feels to me like they’re weighing what needs to be said with trying to protect on-going operations. From retribution? That’s my guess. That actually occurred to me after I wrote this post and that makes me nervous. Do a google search for ‘Emergency Communities, flickr’ to see what I mean. Keeping in mind that a lot of these pics were as recent as May.

Give the lad a few more days to settle in and learn more from more people. I read something last night on the St. Bernard Parish website that said the people have until August 30 before houses are demolished. Don’t know whether that’s changed, the other date is the unofficial date or it’s wrong. (In either case, it’s not very far away, is it?) Yet it’s abundantly clear that the president of St. Bernard Parish (and council) is in their corner, fighting tooth and nail to keep them there to do the work that no one else is doing. Over the next two weeks, the lad will learn and see more. With pictures. One thing he did say—‘the people here hate Bush and the rest of the gov’t with the kind of passion you couldn’t even begin to imagine.’ The other working concept is that FEMA is an underfunded front organization (paper tiger). The folks there (volunteers and returning residents) have 9 months worth of reasons stored up. That the gov’t has willfully abandoned them is at the top of the list.

Everything that I’ve read and heard in the last 24 hours seems to suggest you are right. The bulldozers are waiting. That is simply the unmistakable message...that there is a reason why the place has been abandoned. We just haven’t seen it yet.

Posted by Kate on 06/19  at  11:26 AM

Sue, it’s a gruesome story, isn’t it? We will never know how many people really died in the hurricanes and flooding. That’s so wrong. My assumption (and only an assumption) is that there isn’t adequate funding to document and identify human remains as they are found. For want of money, people’s lives are never officially terminated or given proper treatment. Isn’t there a seven year period that has to pass before someone can be declared legally dead if no body is ‘found’? Can you imagine how that is going to keep some survivors’ lives in a state of limbo for what feels like an interminably long time?

Posted by Kate on 06/19  at  12:17 PM
some survivors’ lives in a state of limbo

Remember the Vietnam POW/MIA struggles?

Republicans can’t/won’t govern; it’s as simple as that.  FEMA has been disgracefully bad, and nobody in government cares.  The media hasn’t followed up much; remember Anderson Cooper rode his Katrina coverage into his anchor job, but he’s moved on to interviewing Angelina Jolie this week.

Reports from the ground are important; I’m glad he’s there to tell us about it.

Posted by Linkmeister on 06/19  at  04:37 PM

and of course all of this begs the questions.........where are the leaders?  Where is the newly re-elected Mayor, the Governor, and of course our wonderful leaders in DC?  Where are all those who could not wait to plant their face on the 6PM news for their 27 seconds of fame?  Home in their safe little cities in their safe little homes and as far removed from all of this as they can be. 
I would like just one, ONE, politician to call out for HELP from each and every elected official either in the form of physcial labor - would be good for them to get some hard earned calluses on their hands instead of on their A**.  Call them to come forward, put their money where their mouths are.  Time to pull together--both sides of the aisle and all of those in between. 

Frontline tonight is airing a special called the Dark Side at 9 on PBS--exploring the dark side of Cheney and Rumsfeld and a few others (like there ever was anything BUT a dark side), maybe if enough people watch it, they will start to demand answers about a lot of other issues as well.  So, OK, I believe in the tooth fairy and others, I can hope, can’t I?  Sadly, though I think it is up to the little guys like us to make enough noise that others stop, listen and pay attention....

OK, off my soapbox, I am ANGRY!!  What was that memorable line from one of the longest and most boring movies I ever sat through........"I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”???

PS--what is echidna??  Sounds like an SDS to me...............;)

Posted by cyn on 06/20  at  07:51 AM

In case you are scratching your head over my P.S., I was thinking about something else as I wrote SDS.  I meant sexually transmitted disease.... geeshhhhhhhh

Posted by cyn on 06/20  at  07:52 AM

Cyn, I surely don’t have answers to your questions. It’s as if the nation has the capacity to be interested in something for a month or two and then we’re on to the next tragedy or interesting story.

In my mind, this is as much a Democratic failing as Republican. NO ONE is talking about the desperate needs in the Gulf. It’s not just in New Orleans or surrounding areas, either. Massive portions of the Gulf Coast are going through the same thing. It’s a whole big chunk of our country that has been abandoned. Politicians don’t care to get their hands dirty, but it would probably pay off in ways beyond their most fevered hopes and dreams if they’d show up and do some sweaty dirty work. For most of them, there has to be something in it for them before they’ll lift a finger. Personal, hands-on involvement (beyond staged photo ops) would be a good way to keep the media focused and people interested. Would earn them lots of brownie points, too. Otherwise...everybody forgets. We’re allowed to forget. Maybe even encouraged to forget?

I’ve had several phone calls this morning from people worrying about the lad after the news of what happened in New Orleans hit the air waves. Aren’t you scared? they asked. Did they not realize that this is what was going on behind the scenes whenever they went to play around in the French Quarter on vacation before the hurricanes? It’s nothing new. It’s just back after a brief hiatus. It is a wonderful city. I love it dearly, but it has always had terrible, terrible poverty with all the attendant issues and crime to go with it. Now it is a terribly, terribly damaged city with even more poverty.

And the really predictable part was the callers’ attitudes...why would people want to give their time and money to a place like that? Maybe it’s better to just let it go.

Except then New Orleans’ problems would just migrate somewhere else. You can’t erase the problems by just moving them around. The problems are so complex. There is no easy fix. Poverty is a cancer that spreads. It creates its own extensive network of problems. It takes years of commitment and resources—lots and lots of those—and an ability to think outside of the safe middle class (and sometime self-righteous) box we live in. Platitudes do not help anyone.

National guard troops pouring into New Orleans is not going to fix the problems despite the approving nods that move has inspired. We can’t fix everything with troops. Spouting rhetoric about being tough on crime is a reactionary posture and does nothing to address the causes of crime. Mr. Nagin must realize that when crime is NOT a better option, crime rates drop. He should be standing on his soapbox screaming this message far and wide. He could use every moment in the spotlight to teach the rest of the nation and inform the nation and solicit the help his city desperately needs rather than use it to make himself look like a strong leader. Leader of what?

Most of our politicians are worthless.

Posted by Kate on 06/20  at  11:34 AM

Echidna was a figure in Greek mythology. She was half beautiful nymph and half serpent. She was the mother of almost every monster in Greek mythology, Chimera and Cerberus, for example. She supposedly had immortality, until she was killed in her sleep by a big bad giant. I think she was also supposed to be the protectress of vineyards. Zeus liked her and thoroughly enjoyed the nasty, bloody fights she waged.

Posted by Kate on 06/20  at  11:46 AM

guess I better go back and study Greek mythology.  I think I napped through those classes or else was too busy writing notes--to people, not class notes.  I was not among the more studious ones!!  I did just go see GREECE at the Museum of Science, does that count for anything??  Tried to send you an email through this site last night...but no luck.  Sent it through regular channels instead, some interesting pictures the husband of a friend took in NO last year…

Oh, so now my word is JANUS--OK, OK, I am going to study now, I promise....

Posted by cyn on 06/21  at  08:26 AM

I took a Greek mythology class in my senior year at high school. It was kind of an honors basketweaving class and the teacher guaranteed that no matter what we did, there was no way we would fail the class. Being rather naive and somewhat the literalist, I took him at his word and didn’t bother to study once. And consequently failed the class, much to my utter shock (first time ever). When I confronted the teacher, he looked me in equally utter shock. He didn’t mean we didn’t have to study at least a little bit. He just meant that it was going to be a fun class and with a minimum of effort, we’d do fine. Well, he said he’d never make that mistake again. I didn’t either.

I got your email and spent a long time looking at the photos. Really nice ones. He’s an excellent photographer, but gosh those are hard pictures to look at. He took his photographs in December and nothing much has changed since then.

Posted by Kate on 06/21  at  11:09 AM