Friday, June 25, 2010

Fifth Anniversay Hurricane Katrina part 4

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Waltzing Matilda
Escape from Dogpatch
In the six days that we had post Katrina, there was one thing that we had plenty of. Time.
We had time to walk and bike the near empty streets, to view where tornados had ripped up fences, taken off roofs and knocked down walls. We had time to hurry past looters breaking into a convenience store by ramming the door with a newspaper vending machine while a police car sat idly by, the officer inside busy looking everywhere but where the action was. We had time to marvel at a city bus abandoned after not being able to make a turn on a street that it definitely wasn’t supposed to be on.
Time to walk streets where rubble abounded and witness enough foliage down on Esplanade Avenue that it resembled an abandoned lumber camp. We talked, or rather listened to the ravings of citizens, some armed, about the collective confusion as to exactly what the hell was going on: police snipers stationed to prevent looters from torching the French Quarter as they had Saks on Canal St. after looting Gucci, Brooks Bros and Pottery Barn, the possible deliberate flooding of the Quarter to alleviate the Ninth Ward and the rantings of the mayor yelling over the AM airwaves to anyone who was listening to get their ass down here, about him being pissed off at the Feds response- or lack of one- and about how we had a city of people “off their meds”. I was wishing for some meds myself.
Some time during each day was allotted to the sweeping of our all but abandoned street, foraging for supplies and fortifying our small balcony facing the street to look like a dangerous place for trespassers to consider. At night we would bang on sheet metal to simulate gunfire, hopefully keeping bogeymen at bay. Oh, what a time we had.
When I went to release a Pit Bull in the Treme armed with nothing but a screwdriver and a hammer I naively assumed that we were talking about a regular dog leash type chain. What greeted me after wading into an alleyway, was a male Pit Bull chained by the neck with the type of chain used to secure chain link fences and park gates. He was chained to a metal spiral stairway and was perched on a milk carton to keep him out of the water.
Surprisingly the dog did nothing but regard me with anxious eyes while I tried, with no success, to put the screwdriver through chain or padlock. After accomplishing nothing but the denting of the screwdriver and the working of the poor dog’s nerves, with heavy hearts, we returned to Dauphine Street; defeated.
On reaching Dauphine St. we passed one of our remaining neighbors, a young saloon owner with resources, who asked about our mission; when I relayed our impotence against the shackle, he called back: “why didn’tchu SAY somethin’? I got a bolt cutter!” Debbie and I waded back, found the woman who let us back in the alley and snipped the animal free. The cur shook itself, gazed up at us and without animosity or appreciation walked calmly away. We, of course, were too late for cocktails.
It seemed to us, at the time that there had been no contingency on any level for the care of pets and critters. Debbie, on Canal St., on a couple of occasions tried to get media to pay attention to the plight of animals that had been abandoned or left behind. It’s interesting to note that the SPCA here has a policy in effect to evacuate all in their charge thirty-six hours in advance of an impending storm. It’s also interesting to note that they had no contingency to leave anyone behind to help any animals that had been overlooked or left here in need of care.
Debbie likes to tell people that we had to leave because we had run out of wine. That is making light of the facts and our emotions at the time, it’s a good way to gloss over and cut short the need for full disclosures and explanations. The simple reason that we stayed is because we didn’t have a way to go and did not consider that it could and would get as scary as it did. The reason that we left was that we were presented with a way out.
Neighbors upon leaving left us food and keys to their apartments; for access to land-line telephones, rubbing alcohol, peroxide or other supplies to be foraged. One neighbor left us his battery powered radio, another left us a fast warming cooler with foodstuffs that perished before we could eat them. Our saloonkeeper neighbor sent over hot soup one night. The family run grocer down the block stayed open for a couple of days before calling it quits and leaving. Another grocer opened his doors and let people take whatever they needed and only asked that they consider paying for stuff when they returned; he remarked that he considered the circumstances were god’s way of getting him to stop drinking and smoking. One friend that was leaving gave us a key to a courtyard where five-gallon jugs of water were stashed.
The man around the corner told us that he had been to the Convention Center where looters had set up tables to sell their ill gotten goods and that the mood was festive, needless to say, that was going to change as the numbers of refugees rose, heat, thirst and conveniences dwindled and security got tighter.
There were reports of bodies left to rot in the streets, one just around the corner from us; naturally Debbie refused to go gawk with me, so I didn’t see it myself. We found some adult diapers in our landlady’s apartment and tried to donate them to the old folks home that had not been evacuated, thinking that they could use them. We were met at the door by a petite elderly woman that carried a shotgun taller than herself and were told that nothing was needed and that we should leave the premises.
One afternoon on the radio, two commentators were talking at each other when one of them says: “you know, these people have been crowded up on that overpass for thirty hours in the hot sun and I suddenly thought to myself: ‘they have no food, no water, no shade and no bathroom facilities’; where are they going to the bathroom?” No one would answer that question, we all knew.
Actually, after the first twenty-four hours, we all became campers in the waste elimination department and we went where we could, when we could; with no water to flush a toilet, we went wherever we could.

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