Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Darlin' New Orleans

Inside Cafe du Monde August 29th has become the accepted date representing the anniversary of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, as well as the rest of the Gulf Coast. The blogs, the press, the networks are alive with the rediscovery of the fact that hundreds of thousands, of the orginal estimated 1 million displaced, are still in limbo:
As of April, the last time such figures were compiled, there were still 750,000 displaced by Katrina and the two hurricanes that followed, Rita and Wilma, according to Bob Howard, communications director for the Washington-based Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Programme.
And of course, there are the apparently bottomless scandals and exposures of incompetence. Katrina was not just a New Orleans tragedy, but my personal experience was with NOLA. I sat in helpless horror in front of the television day after day, and read seemingly endless reports of the spiraling ante of deaths, horrors and bureaucratic ineptitude. My posting at that time here, on Corrente, and The American Street, was as much an attempt to make sense of the thing as it was to gather and transmit information, but the more I posted, the less sense it made. Clearly, what stands out most in my mind from that time was how George Bush played the fool for days while people died, then puffed out his chest and rejected international offers of aid, purely out of personal pride and vanity, until Condi slapped him around a little. We all know now how well he handled it on his own...just about as well as he handles everything else. (See Think Progess' excellent Katrina Timeline.)

It was my great good fortune to have an employer who gave its people a chance to volunteer our services to the Red Cross for disaster relief after it became apparent that this was not going to be any ordinary natural disaster (how much out of the ordinary wouldn't really come to light until many months afterward). In September we were notified that we would be released on civil leave to work up to 3 weeks on hurricane relief. I wrestled with the idea for a few days, then told my husband I wanted to go. He stared at me as if I was mad. A day or two later as we sat in the dark watching the images flicker past on the screen with tears rolling down our faces, he turned to me and said, "Go."

So I did.

The ensuing struggle to get enrolled as a volunteer that eventually led to my training and subsequent deployment took several weeks, but I was finally called up to serve, and took a flight out of Philadelphia on October 9, 2005. At the staging area in Baton Rouge I was in-processed and assigned to "Feeding", and the next day was sent to a volunteer shelter in Kenner, set up in a local gym, where for the next 3 weeks I served food from trucks to residents in the Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, and was one of the first Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle teams to enter New Orleans.

On August 29, and for as long as it takes thereafter, I'll be re-posting the Katrina posts I made in the run-up to my deployment, and the diary I kept (identities will be protected) while working in NOLA. I'll also intersperse it with photos I shot while there. It's not great literature, just a sometimes mundane chronology of what I experienced, but it may offer some additional piece in the puzzle that understanding Katrina has become.

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