Friday, September 09, 2005

House of the Rising Damp

Gaia has stirred yet again and this time it's come home to roost on the Bush doorstep. A full two-thirds of US citizens now disapprove of the emporer's attitude and handling of the disaster according to yesterday's poll and the pervading long-term nature of this particular domestic problems is not something he can divert attention from.

What next? Well as of this morning, a new hurricane is spinning up to speed off the coast of Florida and nobdy seems to know how fast it will get or which way it will turn. With George Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, as governor of that state, one wonders how different the response to any impending disaster might be.

For more opinion on Katrina and the aftermath do check out the latest posting from Richard Neville in Australia.

I received this via the mail from Leilani Horton in the USA. It's well worth the read for an insider view of New Orleans now.


Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2005 22:09:38 -0600
From: Jay Watterworth
Subject: NOLA experiences

As a white guy who isn't suffering in poverty, it has been difficult
for me
to identify with the suffering of many trapped in NOLA through the
I've read and heard from this disaster. Here is an interesting insight
I can relate to.
Sept 5, 2005
Fwd by Phil Gasper
Two friends of mine-paramedics attending a conference-were trapped in
Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. This is their eyewitness report. PG

Hurricane Katrina-Our Experiences by Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's
store at
the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy
case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours
electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses
beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had
up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City.
Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and
windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an
alternative. The
cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit
juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But
they did
not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily
away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived
yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look
at a
newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or
front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the
Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images
of the
National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the
of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were
real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working
class of
New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the
and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the
running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords
over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free
stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical
ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the
of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks
in elevators.

Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue
neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped
hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City.
the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens
communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. Most of these workers
lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet
stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans
was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the
French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees
ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and
from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends
outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of
including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the
City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible
none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up
$25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who
not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who
have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the
last 12
hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we
We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born
babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the
buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the
at the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was
dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street
as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and
their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the
convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of
City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we
not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had
descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further
us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also
descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing
anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only
shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us
that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to
This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and
"law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and
told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have
to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to
decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command
post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a
visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we
could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In
order, the police commander came across the street to address our
group. He
told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain
and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses
lined up
to take us out of the City. The crowd cheered and began to move. We
everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots
misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were
waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated
"I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with
excitement and hope. As we marched past the convention center, many
saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed.
told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few
belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again.
Babies in
strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping
walkers and
others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway
and up
the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it
not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across
foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began
their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various
directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched
forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We
them of our conversation with the police commander and of the
assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The
commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as
was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West
was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in
their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you
are not
crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the
under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to
build an
encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center
divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we
would be
visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated
freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the
trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be
away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to
verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were
and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot.

Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and
disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw
stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could
hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New
Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery
and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down
freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight
turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now
with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and
creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from
rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We
designated a
storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure
privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even
organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out
parts of
C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When
individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out
yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your
kids or
food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to
out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water
the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the
would not have set in. Flush with the necessities, we offered food and
to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us.
encampment grew to 80 or 90 people. From a woman with a battery powered
radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view
on the
freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into
City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all
families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were
to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of
had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was
correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of
patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the
freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to
away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his
with our food and water. Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off
freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we
congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every
congregation of
"victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we
stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into
atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we
once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we
refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We
hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we
hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and
shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with
Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban
and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to
catch a
ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for
limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large
section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded
were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The
airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of
humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush
briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast
guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort
continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we
forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have
air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two
filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with
possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were
subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been
at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no
had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as
they sat
for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not
carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt
reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker
her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered
money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official
effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than
be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.



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