"It looked just like those pictures from Iraq,
like everything had been
blown up except somehow the buildings were still standing. Everything
was covered in mud, cars and even big tractor trailers had been
tossed everywhere like Tonka toys. Loaded tractor trailers full
of sulphur, eighty thousand pounds, just pushed wherever. And
further south toward Venice, everything was just gone."
My power is back on and I am home. I am typing this at my desk in
my house and surfing K5 through my own DSL internet connection.
But even counting aside the fact that my wife is still in Tennessee,
there is a big hole in the side of my house, and there's another
storm looming, things aren't normal.
--My coworker D describing a business-related trip through Plaquemines Parish
If you drive a lot in the South you occasionally run across a stretch
of Interstate where the trees are all torn up for a few hundred feet,
with dead stick trunks sticking every which way and obvious signs
of falls that were hastily cleared from the road. And you say to yourself,
so that was where the tornado crossed the road.
The entire stretch of I-59 from Meridian to Slidell looks like that.
For more than a hundred miles half or more of the trees are down,
many a foot or more in diameter snapped half-way up like toothpicks.
Enormous piles of dead trees wait at intervals to be picked up.
Billboards are down. Road signs are shredded. In fact, the sign
inviting you into the welcome center on I-20 as it enters Mississippi
at Meridian is shredded. The further south you get the more shredding
there is, until near the I-59/I-10/I-12 interchange every building
sports a blue tarp, and entire sections of the wide, once-forested
median have been reduced to red clay.
The eye of Katrina went right up I-59. The hurricane still had
a clear eye and intact eyewall and intensity of Category 2 when
it reached Meridian, over 150 miles inland.
In Mandeville the power is back on almost everywhere and the
biggest complaint of returnees is that the cable TV isn't.
Most of the major businesses and about half of the small ones are
open, and many have "now hiring" signs out front. The parish has
been open for a week.
"For about a week and a half you wouldn't believe how
quiet it was. All you heard was helicopters and generators running
and you could see every damn star in the night sky."
In Mandeville's old lakefront district there was flooding, but most
of the city is intact and we are lightly hit compared to the more famously
ruined areas. But there are oddities. Only about half of my
neighbors are here. And every single house has a big pile of debris
out front. Some, like mine, are relatively modest, while others are
big enough to hide the houses they front. In some places the street
feels like one of those channels Luke Skywalker flew through on the
Death Star, a straight narrow canyon with an asphalt base and walls of dead
foliage and applicances.
--Neighbor G on life after riding out the storm
Occasionally, a house will sport the mark of a "house killer" tree
similar to the one that almost destroyed my own house two years ago.
Most of these haven't been removed yet. As with the smaller job
of replacing the two 4x8 sheathing panels that blew off one end of
my attic, you can't find a contractor to do anything.
While enough businesses are open to make normal life possible there
are glaring exceptions. The largest and most popular gas station in
town remains closed. Interspersed among the open businesses are
those still boarded up. I haven't checked yet to see if Isabella's
Pizzeria is open, but the grocery store is. The po-boy sandwich
shop on the corner is open, but the venetian blind company that
lives in the other half of its building isn't.
Most of the rubbish piles in my part of town are just trees, but
here and there one will contain furniture, the telltale mark of a
house that flooded. Many include refrigerators duct-taped closed.
"A lot of people are being transferred to other offices
in other cities because their New Orleans offices can't open.
And for others, the companies that they worked for don't even
exist any more, so they're dealing with all this crap and they're
I went back to work today and re-installed the computers that I removed
and carried off to Tennessee a week ago. The work crews have done an
impressive job of getting the power and telecoms back running in
St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes. Our building in Harahan, very
near the Huey P. Long bridge, sustained only minor damage. But the
light bulb wholesaler at the other end of our short street lost its
entire roof. Fences are down everywhere -- a repair non-priority.
All along river road the levee is littered with metal siding,
insulation, and roofing materials.
--My insurance adjuster
In St. Tammany and Jefferson most of the traffic lights are now
working, but a lot of the utility poles and signs lean at odd angles.
The repair crews left anything in place that could be used, whether
it was right or not. In many places the telephone and cable TV wires
lie on the ground, left there by the power crews who left their
repair and re-hanging to the companies that own them. Many of these
cables are in service, lying on the ground. My own home phone
connection is like this, lying on the ground for blocks at a time
along highway 22.
Many fallen billboards are still where they landed. The view from
an overpass reveals a sea of blue-tarped roofs. Along Causeway
Boulevard, one home is tarped with one of those plastic billboard
covers which must have blown off its billboard and been salvaged
by the homeowner.
The Quizno's near our shop appears undamaged but isn't open. The
Subway lost their sign but they are open, with a hand-lettered
poster out on the road to let you know. The local Tastee Donut,
which at first glance appears to have been totally destroyed, is
actually open for business despite its smashed facade and
If you try to enter Orleans Parish, a great vast dark area that
once represented half our business and where the half of our
employees who are still displaced used to live, you are greeted
either by a four-foot high earthen barrier or by a checkpoint
where you must convince a National Guardsman that you really
have important business in there. As I've quoted a couple of my
coworkers have done so. I haven't -- yet. But offhand I can
think of six systems that I built that were under more than
eight feet of water, and I know that one day soon I will
probably be seeing it for myself.
As E declared after viewing the ruin of his house, vast stretches
of Orleans will simply be bulldozed and, insurance money and previous
owners willing, rebuilt. He has said his house will only be
rebuilt if it's sitting on ten foot high stilts, with an expendable
garage or workroom as the ground floor. That's the way many of
the camps in places like Fourchon and Venice are built, where
the owners understand that flooding isn't a possibility but an
inevitability. When those gutted neighborhoods are rebuilt, if
they ever are, they won't look much like they did before Katrina.
Life has already returned to the outer parishes, not in a normal way
but more in the way life returns when you inject adrenaline into
someone's heart to restart it. When as many people are willing
return to this place, it will still be a long time before it's "normal."
P.S. Hi, Rita!