Friday, September 12, 2008

A Monster Named Ike

New Orleanians breathed a collective sigh of relief recently as the much-anticipated forecast models shifted Hurricane Ike into Texas. Not that we wish bad things upon most Texans (except for the Dallas Cowboys), but we are still broke and exhausted from our recent Gusta-vacation. Much of south Louisiana is still devastated, and recovery will take a very long time.

However, Ike is proving to be quite the monster in the Gulf. The following is from the blog of Dr. Jeff Masters from Weather Underground:

"Hurricane Ike is closing in on Texas, and stands poised to become one of the most damaging hurricanes of all time. Despite Ike's rated Category 2 strength, the hurricane is much larger and more powerful than Category 5 Katrina or Category 5 Rita. The storm surge from Ike could rival Katrina's, inundating a 200-mile stretch of coast from Galveston to Cameron, Louisiana with waters over 15 feet high. This massive storm surge is due to the exceptional size of Ike."

That's a frightening thing to consider . . . how close New Orleans came to disaster again. Despite the fact that Ike passed more than 200 miles south of us in the Gulf of Mexico, the New Orleans area has been experiencing tropical storm force winds and rain all day. The alley between our house and the neighbors' was flooded this morning. I avoided the side entrance, thinking that I'd keep my feet somewhat dry if I just left through the front door.

That was not the case, as my car was sitting in about three inches of water from the rains, which were starting to pond on both St. Charles and Carrollton this morning. The wind outside still sounds like it's about to tear the roof off my office building in Metairie.

I just spoke with a friend in Houston. They, like many of their neighbors, are staying behind as Ike takes aim at Texas. They might have evacuated had she not just given birth via C-section, and she's just in too much pain to spend hours in a car. So now I have to worry about her as I track Ike's progress across the Gulf.

The National Hurricane Center's site also now shows two areas of disturbed weather that need to be watched. Thankfully, both currently have only a low potential for development.

I'm tired. I'm tired of packing and tired of staying up all night monitoring storms. I'm tired of worrying and stressing and planning. I'm tired of the wind and rain and tornado warnings.

Why do we do it? Why do we risk ruin and despair every year? What makes it worth it? For many people, New Orleans is home. For some, like me, it's my adopted home. So what makes us stay?

Maybe we all love it here.

Or maybe we're all just crazy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Complimentary "Dead Hooker Under the Bed" Smell

Finally, our long week away from home and hours of weather-watching are over . . . for now.

Our stay at the Dead Roaches on the Floor Motel lasted four nights, four night of wondering where the dead-hooker-under-the-bed smell in my friend's room was coming from, not to mention what looked suspiciously like bloodstains on the curtains of my room.

We concurred that the hooker head been killed in my room and stuck under the bed in hers. She didn't have the nerve to check to see if the body was still there.

Our evacuation to Mississippi culminated with the untimely but not unexpected death of my car. Yes, I could have paid a fortune to fix it and then come back to New Orleans needing to get a new one anyway. So I ditched the Dodge in lieu of a more reliable Toyota. We were riding in style.

Bumblefuck, Mississippi, was actually a little town about 100 miles south of Memphis called Grenada. While the squalid conditions of our hotel turned us off initially, not to mention the creepy men hanging out in front of our doors drinking beer and staring at us, the people of Grenada turned out to be friendly, courteous, and helpful, from the bartenders at our favorite spot in Grenada (there's not much to choose from), Jake and Rip's, right down to customer service rep at the garage that gave me my car's final diagnosis (death sentence).

We left Grenada early Wednesday afternoon to head back. Traffic was heavy, but unlike our escape from NOLA, at least this time we had air conditioning. We barreled our way down 55 South until traffic finally slowed to a crawl and were were forced to rethink our route. With my friend Jen in charge of the road atlas, we hopped onto a service road and quickly came to a two-lane highway leading pretty much right down into Louisiana. It wasn't long before we were on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (the longest bridge in the world) and almost home.

We arrived at dusk, just in time to find we had no electricity. We'd also heard on the radio that there was a curfew in place, so finding someplace to go for food or cool air was out of the question. We spent a hellish night sprawled out trying to stay cool and get some rest.

My roommates arrived home the next day. They had gotten stuck on another route and ended up in the middle of Baton Rouge, without gas, in the middle of this night, in the middle of a curfew.

We cruised the neighborhood to check out the damage, noting that the National Guard were stationed in front of all the Rite Aid stores. Rite Aid was hit harder by looters during Katrina than Walgreen's. Why? Well, because Walgreen's doesn't sell beer or booze. It's nice to know that someone was protecting all that alcohol.

Overall, power was still out for most of the area, trees were down, windows blown out. In fact, my roommate lost two panes of her window to the storm. Thankfully, that was the extent of our damage.

It seems our voodoo dance must have worked after all. Never underestimate the power of a rubber alligator. Thanks, Boudreaux.

Thursday afternoon we left our steamy house and headed over to the Maple Leaf, hearing that they had electricity . . . and food. Indeed, in an incredible display of generosity, the Leaf had been feeding the entire neighborhood with free food all week. Patrons at the Leaf seemed tired of being without power in their own homes, but genuinely happy to be back.

Thursday also brought another night of hot, sleepless discomfort. By mid-afternoon on Friday, however, as we all lay around sweating and stinking, the power was finally restored. We whooped and cheered and immediately turned the AC on.

It's Sunday now. Power has been restored to many parts of the city, but the streetcar still isn't running, and I miss hearing it rumble by my house.

Things are slowly getting back to normal. People are coming back, city workers and residents are clearing debris, and New Orleans is getting back to business as usual.

I worry about New Orleans as I watch Hurricane Ike. While our Gusta-vacation went smoothly, I've heard numerous people say they wouldn't do it again, that they'll take their chances with a storm. This kind of complacency will inevitably lead to another Katrina-like debacle, and I only hope that Mother Nature is kind to us for the rest of this hurricane season.

As for me, I'm still watching Ike. He's looking like he's going to Texas, but I'm keeping a close eye on him anyway, just in case he changes his mind. I will not be complacent. Should Ike appear ready to visit Louisiana, my ass is hitting the highway . . . again.

I worried a great deal last week that Gustav would close the book on New Orleans for me. For now, at least, I take comfort in knowing that for both of us, NOLA and me, the story goes on.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I wanna go home . . .

It looks like this eternal day of watching and waiting might finally be over.

Overall, New Orleans got very lucky in terms of damage. The Industrial Canal in the Ninth Ward was overtopped for quite some time, but there were no breeches. The eyewall of Hurricane Gustav made landfall some 70ish miles to our southwest, devastating Cajun country and towns like Houma and Lafayette along its way. A levee in Plaquemines Parish came very close to failing.

I have to say that local government did a bang-up job in the way of preparation. Bobby Jindal was impressively on the ball. I'm no fan of Republicans, but that man has earned my deepest respect this week. Not only did he appear in constant press conferences all week to keep residents informed of the danger, but he also arranged for the evacuation of a majority of New Orleans citizens who had no means to leave on their own.

I only hope that if another evacuation takes place this year (and my gut says it will), that today's close call does not lead to complacency on the part of residents. Today's anticlimactic conclusion for New Orleans does not mean that every story will have the same ending.

Our mayor, C. Ray (not lately), came home from the Democratic National Convention just in time to get his name in the headlines, but I'm convinced that it was Jindal pulling all the strings. Nagin is simply a puppet who no one really takes seriously anymore.

It was announced before the storm that there would be no shelters of last resort, and that anyone caught outside of their own property after a mandatory evacuation was called would be arrested. Looters would be send right to Angola. is now reporting that two people were arrested. Ninety to ninety-five percent of coastal Louisiana evacuated, in one of the impressive displays of efficiency that I've ever seen and the largest evacuation in Louisiana's history.

It seems that many lessons were learned and taken to heart three years ago.

Now we're waiting for news on when the city will reopen. It looks like we'll be stuck in Hotel Hell for yet another day, as the city will most likely not be open for residents tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure that the stain on my curtains here at the Dead Roaches on the Floor Motel is blood. I'm pretty sure that the smell in my friend's room is something dead. I suspect that the victim was killed in my room and hidden under the bed in hers (judging by the odor) and was more than likely just removed before we arrived.

We met several people from New Orleans this evening at Jake and Rip's, the barbecue joint across the street. I thought my car was in trouble . . . until I met someone who landed in this town because he lost the tranny on his car. At least mine is still running . . . for now. I'm a lucky girl today.

I'm tired, and I haven't slept well for days. I want to not think about Gustav, or Hanna, or Tropical Storm Ike, who looks to be headed into the Bahamas in about a week, or the new tropical wave emerging off the coast of Africa that looks as though it might also get a name this week.

I want to not think about anything. I want rest and peace and the comforting rumble of the streetcar passing in front of my house. I want my own bed and my own pillow on which I can finally dream my own dreams instead of nightmares of enduring loss. Sometimes even my dreams have bruises, but most of the time they also have a rhythm and a song to lead me home.

I just want to go home.