Katrina: A Baton Rouge Diary, Part 2

by

09/09/2005

Baton Rouge, LA

Neighborhood: Uncategorized

September 2, 2005: Rumors

From the local paper:

“Rumors of evacuees rioting and looting at Wal-Mart are false,” it said. “Please do not assume that information heard is true unless it is from a law-enforcement officer or a release from the office of the Mayor-President.”

This statement is not exactly fact — certainly the incident at Wal-Mart was not a riot. But a brawl over clothing is close enough to precipitate a riot. Local authorities are not keeping people informed, thereby through their malpractice allowing rumors to fester. Each and every incident should be reported to keep the rumor factor to a minimum. But, because they are afraid to scare people they elect to say nothing. When you stand on the streets and see five or eight police cars driving like mad trying to get somewhere, YOU KNOW SOMETHING is going on. The incident concerning looting downtown was originally called in by the business owners as looting. It turned out not to be true.

Attached are two stories from the Advocate here — a lousy paper in my opinion — but the only game in town.

http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/090205/new_rumors001.shtml

http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/090205/new_riot001.shtml

The second story conflicts with the first — why do you need to place heavily armed officers on the streets if you have nothing to fear. It would be better just to show a beefed up presence rather than have men walking around with assault rifles and shotguns. Either the heads of the law enforcement offices are stupid or they actually have something to fear. You do not show force unless you feel that there is a need to do so — certainly placing heavily armed officers on the streets only adds to the speculation that something is wrong. People seeing one thing and then being told something else by the government adds to the distrust. Stupid maneuver by the local government I assure you.

September 3, 2005: Brief Update

Just a brief update here while I try to get some clothes washed and head back to work. Gasoline has become an issue. From approximately 5 Friday until 2 am Saturday we were out. I have heard that we are out again as I write. The easiest way to find gasoline currently is to look for the traffic jam.

I have been shifted over to dog shift — not exactly where I want to be. Last night a man came and and exclaimed: “Man we just managed to get out of Parish Prision. We were trapped there six days.” This struck me like lightning. “You were in OPP? I asked. He was. I asked him about the hostage situation. He told me that there was not one. If I have not cautioned you all once before I do so now. Please understand that everything I “heard” does not necessarily spell the truth. It is what is circulating around town.

In another instance I spoke with a guy working the shelter in downtown which has been subject of much rumor. He told me that everyone was behaving to the best of the circumstances. He explained that the police have shown a strong presence and immediately quell any dispute that arises.

Speaking of disputes, one developed around 7 Saturday morning at a gas pump two people were striving for. I saw one person get out of the car and I was there in a flash to get between them. Now this may seem a bit rash on my part. Yeah I might get shot. But if I get shot so close to a gas pump there will probably be a fire anyway. People really need to calm down.

Let us talk about race for a second. It is a real rare day when I can concur with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. But before he was squalking and beating his war drum I questioned the same issue. Understand, what was left behind in New Orleans, aside from those who wanted to stay, were the thousands who had no means to leave. These are the poor blacks.

New Orleans is comprised of a black population of at least 65 percent. And a fair percentage of the 65 are poor. The images you see on the television are compared to “Third World.” That is an outrageous remark and a GOD DAMNED shame that the comparison is even thought of never mind mentioned. New Orleans is not a Third World country — the people coming out are not refugees, they are OUR citizens! I object to even the thought of these people being considered anything short of AMERICANS just like you and myself.

We have treated New Orleans as a Third World country and our response time has demonstrated our views. The Federal Government should be ashamed. Four years ago this coming month we witnessed the falling of the Twin Towers. Immediately the fighter jets were scrambled. George Pataki did not have to make a formal request for this — nevertheless the Government seems to believe that a formal request is necessary for their intervention — this is hogwash and a serious lack of the smallest value of common sense.

Since September 11th the DHS has been formed — What a failure. We are probably less prepared today then we were four years ago after spending billions of dollars. How can that be? I leave that question to you.

Indulge me a moment and consider this: drive an hour away from your home. Spend a few days. Now try to account for all of the things in your house room by room shelf by shelf. This is what we are being asked to do — it will be months before I return home. But I need to make an accounting of all that was inside today.

I have had the opportunity to view images of the house via satellite. I am amazed. For those of you who have been there you know that there is a railroad about three blocks away. This railroad track is elevated on a levee and the water level is at least three quarters of the way to the top. It must be twelve feet deep.

I need to run out of here and get to work.

September 5, 2005: Of Thugs, Drugs, and Thieves

I know that I went a bit off the deep end in the last email concerning the word “refugee.” I am exhausted, and my tolerance level is low. Nonetheless, I hold fast to my belief that refugees apply to those who have been expelled from another country seeking asylum from political, religious or racial persecution.

About five minutes ago I gave directions to some people from Uptown on how to get to the food stamp office. This was following my trek to the post office in an attempt to forward my mail from New Orleans. I had no idea that today was a holiday but it is. You would figure with all the work that needs to be done by the USPS they would have been open today, but they were not.

I did not get a chance to read the Sunday paper. I worked from 10pm Saturday night until 8am Sunday and then went back in around 4 pm to midnight. Evidently the paper published an article claiming that there was not a gas shortage. Really? Could have fooled me!

FEMA marched into BR Saturday afternoon. According to my sources, FEMA took 30 State Troopers and some National Guardsmen to the refinery and commandeered distribution. It is my understanding that they sent 60 loads of fuel to New Orleans — this approximates 50K gallons of fuel. The net result: gasoline in BR has become scarce.

When I arrived at work Saturday evening there was not any fuel. We were supposed to receive a load around 2am; it arrived at 5:30. By 3am there were cars parked at the pumps. When the truck finally arrived the fun began. By noon the 8900 gallons of fuel was gone — this translates to around 1000 gallons of gasoline being pumped every hour. But remember, as the paper states, there is not a gasoline shortage, people are just pumping it faster than it can be delivered.

After a few hours of sleep I was called back in to work Sunday afternoon. Due to the fact that most businesses are closing around 8 or 10 pm things get really interesting during that time. People are looking for food and cigarettes and beer and soft drinks. As fast as we can place things on shelves, they are purchased. You want a pack of Camel Lights, sorry, we haven’t had any in two days. Marlboro Lights – Sorry, last pack sold an hour ago.

This afternoon I spoke with a friend of mine who is a paramedic. (He was my EMT-basic teacher). He seemed to believe that the best place for me was in the position where I am now — people need stuff. He gave me some accountings of his first hand experiences in New Orleans and then explained that the search and rescue efforts will probably be tapered off soon and the forensic aspect of identifying bodies will now begin. People have survived longer than seven days without food and water, but there are few who actually make it. My friend, Paul, explained the stench emanating everywhere — feces and urine all over the place due to the fact that there was nowhere to go and the sewer systems have backed up. His recount was not a pleasant scene. Paul also noted that here in BR, for the most part, the shelters have been orderly.

I see that BR has finally made the news this day. Old Georgie Boy has come to town to check on us. For most people he is just another person. To quote a piece from CNN, “I’m not interested in hand-shaking. I’m not interested in photo ops,” said Mildred Brown, an evacuee. (http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/09/05/katrina.bush.ap/index.html)

Of Thugs, Drugs and Thieves: When you take the murder capital of the nation and superimpose it upon another City you are bound to have trouble. Word from a few police friends of mine is that a New Orleans gang member was killed last night. Imagine that.

Thieves are opportunists and, well, their moment has arrived. The local BR opportunist is no exception. With the PD stretched to its limit, the opportunists know that they can do whatever they desire. With that said, there have been many incidents — all minor and nothing truly out of the ordinary — but it makes people wonder what is to come.

I am not a drug user but I have spent enough time working with the Public Defender’s Office to know that drug use is rampant in BR. Now, with the New Orleans drug users in Baton Rouge, and a supply chain which has surely been disrupted, I am curious to how the law of supply and demand has affected drug prices and availability. I am certain that there are many wandering around looking for their fix. I am glad that I don’t work in a pharmacy or drive an ambulance.

Currently it appears that the hysteria is starting to wear off and there is somewhat of a calm (perhaps better termed as a pall) cast upon the City. What is next is anyone’s guess. I may venture out to a grocery store in a few minutes — all I want is a hot meal, which is something I have not had in a week.

September 6, 2005: Of Thugs, Thieves, and Halliburton SEND IN THE TROOPS — This evening, 11:20PM CDT, while on the interstate, I passed the longest military convoy I have ever seen in my life. Duce and a half laden down with cellophane wrapped duct taped supplies were motoring along; nearly each trailing a generator or some other significant piece of equipment. This was a five or six mile convoy — and they packed their vehicles to the hilt with provisions — God Bless our boys who are finally coming to the rescue.

Just before my exit, however, a strange thought popped into my head: where are they going with all of those supplies? Most of the people who needed these goods four days ago have either died, been evacuated or will soon be evacuated. Shouldn’t they be stopping here in Baton Rouge and dropping some of that stuff off here? I dunno, maybe there is a logical solution to why they are carrying so much to New Orleans when the fall back position is Baton Rouge, but it would seem silly to have to transport a majority of that stuff back here when they arrive and find no one in need except themselves.

Upon my exit I saw a startling billboard “N.O.+B.R.= ONE — South Louisiana, you can lean on Baton Rouge!” That is a statement. We have heard about Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and other Cities who are willing to “temporarily” house the people of New Orleans. Baton Rouge has accepted New Orleans, for the most part, with open arms. I have raised the issue of the many thugs from New Orleans that are here. The thugs, however, are a fraction of a fraction of the good people who have also emigrated from New Orleans.

I have been admonished by a former roommate, New Orleans resident, in this manner: “Rest assured, Baton Rouge, that most of the people you are scared of are still stuck in New Orleans, drowning. Make sure to re-read the headlines from your own local papers — you have just as many murders and rapes per capita every year. If New Orleans criminals can’t get out during a hurricane, how the hell are they commuting to Baton Rouge so regularly to commit these horrible crimes?”

Thank you Brian — res ipsa loquitur. Perhaps I spend too much time here rather than at the house in Orleans Parish.

Today was an eerie day. For the most part it was quite. Gasoline could be found and there were not any huge lines. This may be due to the fact that many people from Jefferson Parish (Parish = County for all of you outside Louisiana) were allowed back home to assess their damage and gather some belongings. It may also, in part, be due to the fact that we are reaching a point of leveling out. I believe that the former had more influence than the latter.

Of Thugs, Thieves and Haliburton — surely this will get me on the short list for unlawful combatant status. A friend of mine, an attorney whom I once worked for, stated: “Book it, and remember it, prosecution of ‘Katrina’s Millionaires’ will take the next ten years, you will hear of flying saints holding cash collection boots to help the needy and the aggrieved.” This is one of the reasons I hesitated to endorse the Red Cross in an earlier email. Their corporate people make millions while passing the cup and expecting people to volunteer — we all know this but it is worth taking a stab at them anyway. After reading the above statement I began to ponder the whereabouts of ol’ Dick Cheney. Is he in an undisclosed location again? Accordingly, I decided to check.

The last public speaking engagement of our fair friend Dick took place on August 18th. So where has Dick been — purportedly fishing up in Wyoming. This is a comforting thought during a National Disaster. No sooner, however, did I think of Richard when I wondered what Haliburton is doing. Haliburton has a huge presence in Louisiana. Wowie Zowie! A contract for work in New Orleans? No Kidding.

Now let me place something in perspective here folks. A State of Emergency was declared in Louisiana by George Bush on Friday, August 26, 2005.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/08/20050827-1.html

This was three days before the Hurricane made landfall. It took another two days before we began seeing images of people stranded on roof tops and overpasses. The government contract considering Haliburton’s services takes a less than a week from the Emergency Declaration …

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/3335685

I guess I will take the advice of my friend the attorney — I am booking it and remembering it today.

So what happened at the 17th Street Canal anyway? The stories are becoming a bit clearer each day. It was not exactly a failure but rather a foreign object which punched a two foot wide hole in the levee. This is at least the rumor so far and it does make you wonder when you consider that the levee wall had just be reconstructed with reinforced steel plates driven into the ground. They finally closed the breech yesterday — but I am still curious and reiterate my question: why didn’t they go to the canal opening at the lake and block the known source rather than fool with an ever eroding levee. Some day the studies will tell us the truth — hopefully.

I hate to keep introducing politically charged material into these emails — but the finger pointing for the Federal lag in response seems to fall upon the Governor and the Mayor of New Orleans. They have done as much as they can do with the resources available to them. They did not send the Louisiana National Guard (which trains for Hurricane defense and is always present in New Orleans during these circumstances) abroad to fight a war in Iraq. Georgie sent them, thus Louisiana was missing its first line of defense during this storm.

That is all for now. September 7, 2005: Let’s Talk Football

Today’s traffic nightmare returned with the vengeance that I expected. A ten minute trip across town now takes forty; but who is surprised by that? With schools resuming classes today the East Baton Rouge Parish School system was treated to thousands of new faces. Imagine all the children in the shelters whose parents don’t care about their education and you could probably double the amount of prospective students.

Louisiana State University also saw its first day of classes. Football seems to be upon the minds of those whose ignorance pales beyond the most simpleminded brutish dolt. My GOD! the first LSU home game was postponed! Oh MY! The second home game is going to be played against a top 25 team but at a new venue. There are actually people (alumni of my alma mater) who are spitting mad that a Hurricane has disrupted the season. Self-centered souls such as these should be brought to New Orleans and left to their own devices, e-coli and all. How trivial does football appear in the wake of a catastrophe?

And yet, I do commend the LSU football team for their charitable work. They have, in between practices, done what they could to assist those in the shelters.

This morning I made an attempt to walk over to the shelter downtown and volunteer my time. I was turned away. I needed to go and register with so and so over at such and such. I exclaimed, to no avail, that such a task would take me at least half the day. See folks, there is no greater example of how red tape got us into this mess in the first place.

I believe that much of my writing has taken on a negative tone and I hope to counterbalance that with a few good things that I have seen.

First, in regard to the woman and her daughter that I met the other night, they have found their family. Through the assistance of Mindy, the Crime Scene Officer, the woman and her daughter were brought to a shelter in Zachary ( about ten miles north of Baton Rouge). A family member came down from Alexandria and brought them home with him.

Another homeless family was assisted by Laurice, a Corporal with the BRPD. Laurice took the situation into her own hands, made several phone calls in the early morning hours and then transported the family to a shelter in her unit.

These are two officers out of hundreds who are working without any days off; twelve hour shifts, battling traffic, emergencies and crime. Yet, without skipping a beat, they are there to serve the public and certainly deserve commendation, even if it is just in my lowly chronical of events.

I have an aunt in her eighties who is a World War II Veteran. She was a nurse in Normandy and was about as close to the action on the battlefield as any medical professional could get. In the aftermath of September 11th I was paying her a visit. At that time I spoke with her about my consideration to volunteer for the Red Cross. She got furious. “I wouldn’t give that organization a red-cent! Help the Salvation Army, if you’re going to do anything.”

September 8, 2005: When the Rubber Meets the Road

Up until yesterday, I believed that her irked response about the Red Cross, and her claim that they made her pay for a donut and coffee when she was exhausted and hungry, was a bit aggrandized. Today, well I share her frustration.

My morning, Wednesday, began at 08:00 with a trip to an old Wal-Mart here in Baton Rouge. A friend of mine, who owns a large, nearly automated barbeque pit, had purchased enough food to feed 1000 people. (I have mentioned this barbeque pit in a prior email). Clyde, with his own money, bought chicken quarters, baked beans and fruit cocktail. We were going to cook for the Red Cross volunteers.

It was a clear calm morning, that promised to be hot, when I arrived alongside the building and found Clyde. The Red Cross had positioned us out of sight for obvious reasons; we were there to feed the people who had come from across the United States ready and willing to donate their time, expertise and energy to those who had suffered from the hurricane. After nearly an hour of preparation one of the head cheeses came by and asked us if it were not possible to move closer to the back of the building.

As inconvenient as this request was we capitulated and began to move roughly fifty feet back from our initial position. After nearly another half an hour passed the head cheese came back and expressed his fears that our cooking on site might create a riot. I was a bit puzzled by his concern. A riot? If the people were going to riot, they would do so not over us cooking but over the food being handed out. The head cheese wanted us to go somewhere, cook offsite, box everything up, and then deliver the food to them. What would prevent people from storming the Bastille when we delivered the food? That is anyone’s guess.

For the second time we began packing up but this time for good. I do not remember being too involved with the split second decision of choosing a new location, but I know that I did not object. We chose to go right into the thick of things — the place where we were most likely to cause a food riot — the food stamp office on North Boulevard in one of the tough sections of Baton Rouge.

We arrived to find a long line, thousands of people and cars scattered everywhere. We also located the Salvation Army who accepted our offer with open arms. We pulled into the parking lot and hastily commenced unpacking everything — we were at least two hours behind schedule and two hours closer to a bunch of spoiled chicken. It was now nearing 10:30.

Simply put, photographs would not do justice to all that I saw yesterday. There was one city police officer and about a dozen Louisiana National Guardsmen from Natchitoches, Louisiana, present to keep order. There were people from all over the New Orleans metro area. The line formed irrespective of race, social status or creed. There were pregnant women, guys with dreadlocks, artistically decorated people with tatoos and piercings, old men with canes, business men with polos. They were all in line holding umbrellas to keep out of the sun. At the front of the line the umbrella was handed over and moved to the back of the line. This was it folks, a sea of humankind, flowing at a time of need, under the most adverse conditions, knowing that they were all on equal footing.

Meanwhile we were cranking it up. It was not an easy task and there were moments while Clyde and I played with the fire under the beating sun when I wondered what in the hell I was doing. It was ninety degrees outside and we were standing next to a large object cooking away at 450 degrees. We could not find enough water or shelter from the sun and one of our volunteers collapsed from dehydration.

Carl, a person who I had known for less than a couple of hours, really scared me. When I first found him propped against his van he was moaning. He showed the classic symptoms of dehydration but I was afraid he was going to go into convulsions. I began pushing liquids but when his eyes rolled into the back of his head he terrified me. EMS arrived a transported him — later on, after he was released, Carl returned to help out again.

Around 2:30 we began to pull the chicken out of the fire and began serving food. The first batch of chicken was approximately 368 pieces — it was gone in a flash. From there on about every 20 minutes or so we served as many as we could. And there was no riot. There were no complaints. People formed an orderly line and were generally grateful for a hot meal.

At 4:00 I had to leave. I did not want to go but I needed some sleep before I returned to work at 10:00. I was sunburned, smoked and filthy but I would do the whole thing over again.

Attached is a copy of what was written in the Times-Picayune:

“Making sure that the operation runs smoothly are armed members of the Louisiana National Guard’s 108th Cavalry, normally based in Natchitoches. But perhaps the most welcome sight for late-afternoon arrivals, who groaned as they spotted the long lines, was the smoking, barrel-shaped pit manned by Clyde Presty, owner of Baton Rouge’s Port-A-Pit Barbecue. Presty and his staff showed up shortly after noon and began dishing up the first of 1,000 chicken dinners, featuring baked beans and fruit salad.

” ‘The Red Cross invited me to feed their workers over at Cortana Mall, but for some reason we weren’t cleared to do it,” a visibly agitated Presty said. ‘So I said if they don’t want it, we’ll take it direct to the people.’ “Together with three local church groups, Presty has established a program called ‘I Am My Brother’s Keeper.’ As long as the need is there, he is willing to spend one or two days a week grilling and serving food donated by others, he said.

‘We can handle 1,000 hamburgers in an hour or 5,000 hot dogs in an hour,” he said. “You bring it, and we’ll cook it.'”

http://www.nola.com/newslogs/tporleans/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tporleans/archives/2005_09.html

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