Sep 05

The word from New Orleans

Flooding in a neighborhood in New Orleans


Thanks for your messages. Sorry to be so slow getting back to you.

Sometimes I feel like I’m at the helm of a rudderless boat caught in a whirlpool.
Speaking of the legal system shutting down, tomorrow will be the 1st time I will have a chance to get into my office since the storm. Despite repeated efforts on my part, I have been unable to get any word from my landlord about the condition of my office. From standing on the levee yesterday I saw that the construction crew was using my space to bring out plywood to close window gaps on other floors. Their efforts may have done more harm than the storm. For over two weeks I have had no access to my files, computer data and calendar. I cannot reach my clients and they cannot reach me. The last couple evenings we have had internet access at Mary’s sister’s house in Madisonville, north of Lake Pontchartrain. Before that we had to use the public library in Gulf Shores, Al. Hopefully tomorrow Shelly will get us DSL service in Gulf Shores. We have been getting by on cell phone service and even that did not work for the 1st few days and has been overloaded since then.

It is possible we will have power restored by Friday to our home in Metairie. As great as it will be to get back into our bed, it will be heartbreaking. Our house is on a raised slab and did not flood. All of our neighbors flooded. Many have one story homes and thus lost even their bedroom. Our only flooding was a foot of water in our cabana and water in Shelly’s car. She doesn’t mind because she would like to take the insurance money and apply it to a new car.
Julie was able to transfer for at least one semester to St. Louis Univ. She has been gone 10 days already. Shelly is postponing graduate school for one year and looking for a job in D.C. She and a classmate have already lined up an apartment. Since the rebuilding of New Orleans will take years, and success is hardly preordained, I hope they both seek opportunities elsewhere. It will take the equivalent of the Marshall plan to get this region on its feet again and I doubt that our government will have the resolve to see it through. The workers and customers are all gone and many have no homes to return to; the businesses are shut down with heavy damage; and, the cleanup necessary for any commerce or repopulation to occur will take many months. What a gargantuan task!

Best wishes, Harry

[NOTE: See €œcomments€ for a copy of an article from the NYT on the collapse of the legal system in New Orleans]

Sep 05

Waiting for word from the Gulf Coast

WE ARE AWAITING WORD from our cousin, an attorney, whose family evacuated from New Orleans (both daughters are in University there). He and his spouse (also an attorney) were in Philadelphia on business when the storm hit. His sister reported that he is heading to Texas to pick up one daughter, a generator, and emergency supplies while his wife is headed to Florida to meet up with the other daughter. Their home is in Metairie, near a place called Bucktown (not far from the now infamous I-10 and the Causeway interchange), and is almost certainly under water. They have a place in Gulf Shores they had only recently repaired due to earlier hurricane damage. Located on the western edge of Katrina they are hoping, hoping, there is something there so they will have temporary housing while things sort out in New Orleans. Our only visit to New Orleans was a quarter century ago to attend this cousin’s wedding. He had almost 100 percent participation from his extended family, a success he dryly attributed to the wedding’s location. We all stayed in a hotel on Bourbon Street that was holding a block of rooms for us. I distinctly remember two things about New Orleans. Jackson Square, the French Quarter; and downtown (we were advised to €œstay away€ from other neighborhoods).

We walked to downtown to buy some shoes needed for the wedding and had the very interesting experience away from the tourist area of being virtually the only non-black people in the teeming shopping district. We were served, very politely, in a shoe store and later remarked about the difference in the role reversal. We were curiosities, yes, but experienced no icy treatment sometimes afforded blacks living as minorities almost everywhere else in America. My family are Philadelphians. My cousin went to New Orleans to study law at Tulane, discovered he was trained in a legal system based in French Colonial law found in no other state but Louisiana; married a local girl and; anyway, was swallowed whole by New Orleans culture. He was adopted by a city with a spirit and style that even this disaster will not quell.

WHERE WAS THE CAVALRY? My hope is that the news media will somehow break out of its pack mentality and actually find out WHY it took so long for the federal government to reach the city in force large enough to make a difference, save lives and restore order. I am not proud of my country right now. I would like to understand the things that stood in the way of a more comprehensive, timely, response. As I finished writing this my wife, who is from the Pacific Northwest, said she had just received word from her brother in Eugene that he may be sent to the Gulf Coast to help with disaster relief coordination. Her brother, a retired Seattle fire captain, is a forest fire dispatcher for the U.S. Forest Service. I will agree with Mr. Bush on one thing he says. Katrina is a national disaster. Here we are in St. Paul, Minnesota, and can easily describe ways in which this momentous calamity is touching our lives besides forcing up the price of a gallon gasoline to $3.