Hurricane Katrina: After the Flood (pictures and memories)
I remember I kept stopping at the stop signs.
Driving through New Orleans a week after Hurricane Katrina was like driving through the ruins of civilization. Although there was no traffic, save for the occasional military vehicle and the odd news van, for some reason I kept stopping at all the stop signs. “Sergeant,” my platoon leader said from the passenger seat of the Hummvee, “quit stopping at all the stop signs. There’s nobody here. Also, you really don’t need to use the turn signal either.”
Ghost town: Lower 9th
Here is me driving into New Orleans 9/6/05. The smell of decay and death was overpowering.
Outside New Orleans Sept. 2005
I’ve tried to write about my experiences in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina before. Each time I fail, giving up after only a couple of sentences. The tragedy on the gulf coast was so epic and so widespread that my narrow experience feels insufficient and frankly insignificant. There’s nothing I can say about Katrina that hasn’t already been said.
But I think about New Orleans sometimes. I think about the city and the people I met. I think about the devastation, the awful fetid smell of rotted food, dead and decaying pets, and sadly, dead and decaying people. I think about the generosity and spirit of many in the New Orleans area. I also think of the ugliness I saw particularly in the sheriff and his deputies in Gretna. Mostly, I think about how late we were, how arriving in New Orleans a week after the levees broke was like arriving at a brutal crime scene long after the crime.
All I can offer are a few general thoughts and some badly taken pictures. To the people of New Orleans, and all of the Gulf Coast, I’m sorry. We should have done more. I should have done more. I am haunted by the memories of New Orleans.
Note the water line
The pier is on the other side of the road
“If it keep on rainin’, the levee gonna break” –Led Zeppelin
Within 60 hours of getting the call on 31 August 2005, C Troop 2/104th Cavalry arrived from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to the outskirts of New Orleans .There was some confusion about what our mission was as we unloaded our gear in the sweltering heat on the grassy air field just outside Slidell, LA. Three hours after arriving we were ordered north to Alexandria where we sat around playing with ourselves for 3 more days until the powers that be figured out what was going on.
Who was in charge here? As it turns out, no one was. We were troops without a leader.
C Troop 2/104th outside Slidell, LA.
“Crash on the levee mama, water gonna overflow.” –Bob Dylan
Eventually, we took up residence in Jefferson, LA at the Riverdale High School a couple of miles west of New Orleans.
One of our missions was to set up food, water, and ice distribution points (PODs as they were called). We operated a huge one in a SAM’s Club parking lot. Thousands of cars came through over the next couple of weeks.
Riverdale High School. Home sweet home.
The commander on the horn on the left. Thats the First Sergeant making plans in the center.
Driving through floodwaters on the north side of New Orleans. The smell was particularly bad in this neighborhood. FEMA had not yet checked all the houses in this area.
Into the floodwaters
Note the waterline
This area had not been searched by FEMA yet
Port Sulphur: The Disappeared
Occasionally we would recon the surrounding area. There were areas that FEMA had not yet entered. A friend of mine had sadly told me about the devastation he’d seen driving through Chalmette with his squad. The next day, I was to take my squad southwest into the town of Port Sulphur
I had never seen destruction like I had seen in Port Sulphur. The town was gone, wiped off the face of the earth. The devastation was made even more surreal and horrific in the bright, cheery September sunshine. The only signs of life we encountered were two FEMA vans and a helicopter. We were helpless pilgrims traversing a phantasmagoric nightmare landscape in the bright, unforgiving sun.
Note the mini-van under the rightcorner of the house
The town of Port Sulphur is gone
The foundation of this house is about 100 ft back off the road
Gretna: Anger and hate across the bridge.
We set up a POD in Gretna. The sheriff and his deputies bragged about keeping “the darkies” from crossing the bridge. Perhaps you read about this. This was shocking to even the most back-woods Pennsylvania yahoo. I had a fantasy about butt-stroking the Gretna sheriff in the face with my rifle. The Sheriff and his deputies stood around laughing and grab-assing while my troopers worked for hours in the 100 degree heat. I took few pictures. I became increasingly depressed and angry while we were there. I hated Gretna. And I hate the bitterness that remains.
Gretna. On the right you can see the police car. No respect for the police of Gretna. I hated that place.
Make way for the press
The Media was everywhere. Hell, 2nd platoon even got to meet R. Lee Ermey and his camera crew from the History Channel (he's famous from the film Full Metal Jacket). I almost t-boned a CNN van driving through the 9th ward one day. Fucking Anderson Cooper. And NBC news showed up at one of our distribution points one day. “Sergeant, we’d like to ask you a few questions.” I had no interest in talking to the press, so I pointed them out to my unit commander. They interviewed him and shot some footage of us handing out food and water. I wondered if they heard about the sheriff in Gretna and what he did to the people on the bridge….
NBC talking to the commander
My New Orleans
We spent about a month in New Orleans. Prior to Katrina, I had been intrigued by the mystique and history of The Crescent City; the home of the music I love: Dixieland, jazz, and the blues. The strange and wonderful amalgam of disparate cultures and people is a micro-chasm of the American melting pot, the reality of the city the representation of the American dream.
Outside of the time I spent in Europe, Asia, and Africa while I was in the Navy, I’ve spent most of my life in the northeast. But the time I spent in New Orleans during those few weeks in September 2005 forged a bond between myself and the city. New Orleans will always be in my heart and will always be special to me. I hope one day we can get together under better circumstances.
Drivin' through the French Quarter
Bourbon Street. Those are troops walking right/center. News people on the extreme left.
A house on Esplanade Street. The words on the board read "Fuck Blanco, Fuck FEMA--We've gone to Texas"
A memory I hold onto from my time in New Orleans is of the day we were driving through the French Quarter. Although the city was virtually deserted we happened to drive by a bar that was open. It was a tiny miracle. As we passed the side street bar, a drunken patron stumbled onto the sidewalk. Dressed only in a pair of grungy shorts the wild-haired and wild-eyed denizen raised two beers in the air and shouted, “Ahyoooooooo!” There was something defiant, true, and distinctly American about this crazy man. I wish we could have stopped and had a few rounds with this fellow (my squad practically begged me to stop). We drove by and cheered.
Here’s to you wild man of the Quarter. When we meet again, drinks are on me.
Me in the back of a hummvee Sept. 2005. Twilight on the bayou.
And here's the great Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing the Basin Street Blues>