Katrina: A Baton Rouge Diary, Part 1

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09/09/2005

Baton Rouge, LA

Neighborhood: Uncategorized

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August 29, 2005: Update from BR -- 03:30

Several people attempted to reach me during the afternoon -- I apologise for being "in medias res" of the realm of chaos. I am unsure at this time what will be left of New Orleans when all is said and done, though, I do hold out some hope as I view the satellite imagery this early morning as I see a wobble eastward of the eye and dry air entraining into the southwestern quadrant of the storm. As long as this thing stays east of New Orleans I do have some grain of hope to hold on to.

To place things in a very simple perspective -- as the idiot broadcasters only only focus upon the core of the storm and not the entirety -- look carefully at the eye of the hurricane. Anyone who has ever seen lake Pontchartrain can quickly understand how amazing this storm is by noting that the eye is larger than the lake. Typically an eye of a storm ranges around ten miles in a good storm -- this is at least thirty to fifty miles in diameter.

Presently in BR all the hurricane partiers are consuming vast amounts of alcohol and driving the PD crazy with brawls in the hotel parking lots. Human nature sometimes baffles me. Approximately 200k people remained within the City limits of New Orleans -- I am not sure who would want to witness twenty- five feet of flood waters -- and I am certain that if they survive they will never forget the experience. The Superdome has been called upon as a shelter. Problem with this is that the Dome is not rated for a Category Five Storm. IF, and only if, this thing hits New Orleans dead on, the fatality rate will be phenomenal. (I am sure the media has mentioned all of this -- but I have yet to see the news).

As BR has not yet seen the brunt of things I have opted to forward my mobile phone to my home phone. Should the cellular service fail my phone will forward over to home after five rings. If Hurricane Andrew is any way to forecast the impact on BR, I would suspect to be without power anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

Attached is a webcam in New Orleans which at this time is still functioning:

http://www.wwltv.com/webcams/tower1.jpg

August 31, 2005: Ataxia Pending

Once again I write with a bit of an update.

First, however, let me clarify that in no way did I even consider an attempt to weather the storm in New Orleans. During my "weathering" Hurricane Andrew in 1992 I came to the epiphany during the height of the storm that, amidst rising flood waters, my folly could have spelt my death. At that moment I told myself "never again," and certainly this time was no exception. I remained in Baton Rouge and I am staying in Baton Rouge for the time being.

Nevertheless Baton Rouge, Louisiana is not exactly the place to be. The City's population has nearly doubled. There are people everywhere and the strain has become nearly debilitating. With the surge of population there are many who have absolutely nowhere to go. Hotel and apartment occupancy has reached its zenith and empty parking lots are full with people living out of their cars. It is indeed not a pleasant scene.

In the early hours of Tuesday (around 02:00 CDT) I learned of the 17th Street Canal levee breach. From my perspective, there is no larger irony than this event, which occurred only after the calm resumed. Just as I along with many other New Orleanians were breathing that sigh of relief, nature plunged the knife deeply into our back. All those who were sleeping in their cars assumed that it was only a temporary inconvenience yesterday -- today it is the eternal notice of eviction.

I have been on a unique front line -- I was conscripted back into the convenience store where I once worked. Here it is all about commodities of common existence. Do you have ice? No. Any bars of soap? No. Any toilet paper, tooth brushes, band aids? No. The shelves were cleared. We were restocking as fast as it was going out the door.

During the middle of the afternoon one of the eeriest scenes I have experienced in some time occurred. Six ambulances pulled into a packed gas station lot full lights and sirens. They needed fuel and it was a priority. You all may have read about the closing and evacuating of the hospitals. For the first time since the day it opened sixty-four years ago, Charity Hospital (an eighteen story hospital) was closed down.

Over the last couple of years through my work with the Courts and EMS/Fire I have come to know quite a few law enforcement officers and EMTs. I present to you some of the things the media has not mentioned:

80% of NOPD is unaccounted for -- now this may be due to poor communication and flooded out police units -- it also may mean that some where swept away by flood waters.

There is currently a prison uprising and hostage situation at OPP (Orleans Parish Prison). It appears that a deputy brought his family there as a safe haven and they have been held hostage. OPP inmates have escaped -- but they are trapped on a bridge with nowhere to go. Good Luck.

Wild Life and Fisheries Deputies were attempting a rescue via boat. They were fired upon by those they were trying to rescue who attempted to commandeer the boat.

Meanwhile all those who remained in the city are now being transported to Baton Rouge. It is only a matter of time before things here become unruly. Honest people and criminal alike are now on foreign soil with nothing left -- no house, no job, no money. This, my friends, has recipe for anarchy engraved all over it.

In the coming couple of days BRPD is planning on shipping 100 officers to New Orleans -- this is about 14% of the force. Combine that loss of law enforcement with approximately 500K people with no shelter, little food and no money and, well, you can easily see that this will become a problem.

The telecommunication system has been taxed. It has been difficult to get calls out and my cellular phone has become a piece of costume jewelry.

And yes, I need to take a swipe at George Bush here -- where is he? There has not been one headline regarding his leadership or concern. If this was Florida he would have been there for the photo op hugging his brother Jeb. No, he's off somewhere pondering whether or not to open the strategic oil reserve -- we only lost (in the least) two major refineries in the New Orleans area, seen the closing of several refineries throughout the state, and the oil rigs in the Gulf, their status is to be determined. But the strategic oil reserve is there I guess for WW III when they'll be bombed into useless oblivion.

Anyway, the photographs and video you are seeing are only a portion of what is going on. There are hundreds of thousands of people now wandering the face of the earth, their lives totally uprooted and incomparably altered in perpetuity. I have lost the place I call home, a great deal of memories and a vast amount of personal items. But at least I have a roof over my head here in Baton Rouge.

September 1, 2005: Gas in Short Supply -- Looting

Okay folks. What is wrong with the following statement made by the Secretary of Energy? Releasing the strategic oil reserve will “certainly help those companies and those refineries to function, whereas they wouldn’t be functioning without a supply of crude oil.”

I will tell you what I think is wrong with the above quotation, it is called focus. Screw helping the big oil companies, let us concentrate, for once, upon the little guy who is standing at the pump. Furthermore, the ex post facto decision stumbled upon this morning by the foundering administration of fools has come just a bit too late. Under the most dire circumstances here with New Orleans suddenly and forcibly merged into Baton Rouge, we have the seedling planted for the panic which will spark riots -- that is, you may ask: no gasoline. And by tomorrow that will be exactly the case.

Never in my life have I ever heard of someone pulling into a gas station and buying $600 in gasoline. I witnessed it this day. A man pulled in, placed down six Ben Franklins and said "fill'er up." He was the top spender but there were several others who came from as far away as LaComb, LA (70 some odd miles to the east) and filled up as many gas cans that would fit in the back of a pickup truck. All the while people were topping off their tanks as fast as they could due to rumor of $3 or $4 a gallon gasoline prices in the coming days.

I managed about 2 good hours of sleep and then returned to work this morning at 7AM. I bagged 65 eight pound bags of ice and then played like I was Stalin with them by rationing the purchase to two bags of ice per vehicle -- not person. It took an hour to bag the ice, it was gone in five minutes.»

By five I could not take any more, and subsequently returned home. I ended up being called back at work at 11PM and worked until 2AM. Somewhere in between the regular gas ran dry. People were forced to purchase Super because there were no other gas stations around with any fuel whatsoever.

What happened to the gas? The refineries ran out of crude. All while Georgie Boy was sitting on his duff in Crawford, TX he should have been considering what sort of ramification a Category 5 hurricane would have on the Gulf wells. Not that his decision would have ever been predicated upon any reflection of past historical weather events, mind you, what I like to call plain common sense. But anyway tomorrow there will be no gas at the pumps and that adds to an already strained set of circumstances.

And strained the situation has become. While working a portion of the grave yard shift, which was anything but dead, the BRPD had to close down the Wal- Mart due to an incident which broke out over tee-shirts. One guy is in the hospital with a busted head and another discovered how many joules can be delivered by a Taser gun. Eight blocks from my apartment here in Baton Rouge, just outside the walls of the emergency shelter, there was sporadic looting of a gas station and Subway. Reports of attempted carjackings do not surprise me at all due to the lack of mobility experienced by those displaced.

And you know, we are only two days into several months of displacement. The next week should become very interesting. I went out and purchased 500 rounds of ammunition for my gun.

Now, normally my firearm remains unloaded in a fireproof safe which requires both a combination and a key to open. Now, it goes everywhere with me. (Mike, I really wish I had that shoulder harness now). I don't care to carry a weapon, yet I believe that we are sitting on a powder keg here needing only the slightest spark to set off a riot of phenomenal proportions. People are becoming restless, and that is not good.

The media has covered the New Orleans situation to the max. But no one has answered the burning question of why they cannot get people out. Looting and shooting at rescuers aside, the major problem is manpower and equipment. People are peppered throughout a thirty mile diameter circle. Imagine a rescue at sea thirty square miles in area involving countless soles and then compound that with the obscurity of trees, roof tops and buildings. This is no easy task.

One of the major news networks focused upon a group of people trapped on the Interstate overpass just north of downtown New Orleans. Why can't they get these people moved from harm’s way. Well, a helicopter can only pluck one person at a time and fit seven or eight aboard. An airboat can hold the max of fifteen. We are talking about thousands of people -- people who were ordered out of the city before the storm delivered its wrath. There are only so many boat and helicopters around. Thus you are limited inherently by that factor alone.

Tomorrow is another day. I just hope I do not see anyone walking down the street carrying a television from one of my neighbors’ homes.

Many have asked what they can do. Other than prayers, I am not really sure. My faith in the Red Cross is very limited, but if a contribution is to be made I suppose they are a fair option. I just hope they deliver promptly. A friend of mine has a charcoal griller which can cook 1000 hotdogs an hour and 500 hamburgers in an hour. We are in the process of getting together with the Mayor or Baton Rouge to coordinate cooking for Emergency personnel. I will check about donations locally if anyone is seriously interested.

September 2, 2005: Traffic Duty

Perhaps the most gripping moment of today came only a few hours ago. Shortly after midnight one of my Crime Scene friends motioned me over and pointed out a woman and her child. Mindy explained that this woman was brought to Baton Rouge and just dropped off -- nowhere to go. The woman brought up a box of donuts and I asked her where she was from. She explained that she was from the West Bank. The West Bank in New Orleans is the west side of the Mississippi River and actually lies south of the City. I was interested in her story because we have not heard much about that portion of the City. Due to the lack of any news I assumed everything was high and dry. Well my assumption was wrong. The woman detailed conditions of four feet of stagnant water, no electricity but she still had gas to cook on the stove. They were evacuated for health reasons. I told her to get whatever she wanted as there would be no charge. Then she and her daughter of about four years old left -- I have no idea where they went.

I am not a terribly emotional person but this got to me. I did not know what to feel -- I wanted to cry but at the same time I was furious. How, in the richest country in the world, can we allow people to be dropped off in a City they have maybe visited once or twice and allow them to wander the streets hoping that they will meet up with a relative? There is no word in the English vocabulary to describe what is going on.

The Mayor of New Orleans has spoken impassionately on the radio -- openly cursing and questioning how many press conferences are going to be held before something gets done. Good question, Mayor Ray Nagin. The Mayor pointed out that we quickly authorized billions of dollars and mobilized an army in days to take over a country half way around the world. I remember the invasion of Iraq; it was swift. How is it that nearly a half of a week has elapsed and we cannot mobilize an army upon our own soil?

Only now have I begun to see military personnel coming through Baton Rouge -- they are still 80 miles away from their target and have not yet even assembled to mobilize. Today was the first day I have seen a formation of Black Hawks and ONE Chinook flying above. This is pitiful.

I am old enough to vaguely remember the gas lines of the 1970's. I remember odd even days for those of you in Connecticut. I do not remember the mayhem of the parking lots -- perhaps I was just too young. I spent 5 hours this afternoon directing traffic on a five lane road. I do not care for people who impersonate police officers but I put on my State Police Emergency Response shirt and walked around traffic with absolute command. It was necessary. I wore my weapon openly on the street and did so because I knew everyone would see it and the people in the lot would be less likely to argue.

Directing traffic is not an easy task. Five lanes makes it interesting. I had to coordinate myself with the traffic lights and make sure that people entering from the opposite side of the road had almost equal access as those entering in from the same side. I had two guys in the lot making sure people got to the pumps. I was eventually reprimanded for brandishing a weapon. Not by the police but by management. I told management they had two options -- leave me alone or let pandemonium reign. I was allowed to continue my work.

When I tell you that we had more cars than could possibly fit on the lot I am not joking -- it was like directing sardines into a can. To complicate issues I had to navigate the delivery truck into the lot twice -- EMS countless times -- and I had to maintain a flow of traffic of all five lanes without causing a wreck. I am not sure where the panic on gasoline started but people are panicking. The delivery driver assured me that they were not going to run out. With so many stations running out of gas each day, one must ponder the validity of his assertion. Regular gas currently stands at $2.55 a gallon -- just to dispell any rumor.

After last night's incident at the Wal-Mart they are no longer open 24hrs. In fact few places are operating 24hrs. A good percentage of the offices downtown are closed.

Once again I have met many people from the New Orleans area. A man told me this evening he was in touch with a friend of his in the City and that he had nothing left. I asked specifically where he was from and he told me Uptown -- it was not the flood waters that took his possessions, rather it was the looters. I guess when I return I have something to look forward to -- at least the eight feet of water in the house will keep the looters out.

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