10 September 2005

Day 9

New Orleans is very slowly coming back to life. It’s good to see. The electrical workers are busy constantly, trying to bet the power lines disentangled from trees, righting tilting electric poles, and replacing poles that have been broken in two. Today I saw a McDonald’s sign on, announcing what specials were going on. There was no one in the store, so I presumed it was not opened yet (obviously they never turned the sign off when they evacuated), but it was an improvement. In those areas (such as those close to the base I’m at) where people have been allowed to return, I’ve seen people with chainsaws trying to clear their property, and here and there businesses open. There’s a bar with “thank you Guardsmen” painted on the wood over its windows. Of course we all want to go there, but no drinking is allowed. The roads, even in the restricted areas, are much more crowded now than when we first got here, mostly (if not entirely; it’s sometimes hard to tell) with rescue vehicles.

I had a very interesting day today. It started with injuring myself. As I believe I mentioned, I used to drive the old deuce-and-a-halves when I was a Private, so I know them pretty well. Well, I was climbing around on one today, checking the oil and such, and in the process of lowering the hood, I went to put my foot on the bumper—and it wasn’t there. Apparently they shortened the bumper on the A3s by about three inches, but I hadn’t really noticed, and wasn’t thinking—I know this truck by heart, right? So the edge of my foot just caught the bumper and I slipped to the ground, barely hanging on by one hand. In the process I managed to pull or twist the middle finger of my right hand. It’s been stiff and sore all day.

But the day got better. We went out on the same mission we’ve been doing for several days now—hauling police around to check for stragglers who haven’t left yet. This time we were working for the California Highway Patrol. Apparently riding around in our trucks is too much work for them—all they used our trucks for was to haul (potential) evacuees; they themselves drove around in their nice air conditioned SUVs, clogging up the roads. At first we drove around trying to find where we were supposed to be (every truck has a Louisiana State Policeman in the cab directing us, because obviously the CHP has no more idea of where to go than we do). I have a feeling that coordination between everyone could be greatly improved. I wonder how much a) duplication of effort and b) missed areas there have been. I have no way of knowing. Anyway, eventually we found some streets to clear (same process as before—leave comments if you want to know more detail about anything I say), then went back to the base camp. After waiting for a while there, we went out again—but this time to an area of town I hadn’t seen before. We crossed a bridge, and then—wow. Mud. Everywhere. Obviously, this was a place that the floodwaters had hit pretty hard. The floodlines on the buildings were about 5 feet up, and every car had dried mud on its roof. The streets and lawns were all covered with either wet or dried-out mud, depending on how close to the levee you were (closer to the levee was uphill, and dried quicker). It was very, very messy. While we found no people (though apparently one dead body was found), there were several dogs running around. They were quite tame, and looked in good shape—so far at least. I was amazed that they had survived, but dogs can be pretty resourceful.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned how the police are marking homes they’ve checked. They have red marking paint in spray cans that they draw big X’s on the house somewhere (nice policemen do it on boarded up windows or sidewalks or window glass; uncaring ones do it on doors and walls) with the date in the top “V” of the X and a 0 in the bottom one. The 0, I presume, refers to how many refugees or bodies they found within the home. The paint is marked “temporary,” so perhaps it washes off, but I’m going to come down Cadiz street five years from now and see how much of that paint is still left.

On the way back, we went through the French Quarter. New Orleans is absolutely amazing. Have I said that yet? If so, it bears repeating. Downtown is awesome, but the French Quarter is absolutely astounding. Bourbon Street is much narrower and more built-up than I had pictured it. I’m not going to try to describe it to you, except to say that there were tons of vehicles of all types around; it was tough weaving through them. Traffic laws of all sorts are void in New Orleans right now—at least for relief vehicles. We ignore stop lights, stop signs, one-way streets; we pretty much go wherever we want. There was plenty of trash in the French Quarter, too, but some people were beginning to clean things up. I must come back here after they’ve had a chance to move back in and get things running again.

Downtown Canal Street is being used as a command center for just about every civilian organization—Federal agencies, television networks, you name it. I have never seen so many RVs with satellite dishes on them.

I will try to get pictures of all of this posted, but all I have is film—no digital. I’m trying to beg digital photos from other people.

New Orleans doesn’t believe in boring street names. Most cities name their streets after trees, States or Presidents. Not New Orleans. One of the least interesting street names I’ve seen is Annunciation. There’s also Magazine, Melponemes, and—get this—Tchoupitoulas. I had to pass by several street signs to ensure I got the spelling on that one right. I think I’ve got the pronunciation down, too: “Chopitoolas.”

We got weapons today! And ammo! Thank goodness. Not that I’m worried about violence; I’m not. It’s just that it’s downright embarrassing to have a cop stay back from their job to guard our truck and us. We’re the Army, for cripes’ sake.

I’m a little surprised that I’m not getting more comments—isn’t there anything you want more info/detail on? Less? Let me know.