Here are some relative thoughts about the condition of New Orleans and how it got there. Previously, I worked in the retail/wholesale marine industry for about twenty years and the brackish saltwater environment of the Gulf South added an adequate amount of job security to those years. I sold millions of dollars of material over the years relating to the preservation and restoration of metallic objects from the tiniest electronic component to massive paint systems designed to ward off the inevitable destruction of entire hulls of ships. Saltwater does not need gaping holes to destroy. Just the hint of it in the air can infiltrate the most secure environments: electrical switches, electronics, etc. In fact, millions are spent each year on anodes that is, less noble metals such as magnesium for aluminum and zinc for steel of the sacrificial nature which are attached to the hulls and engines and are designed to sacrifice themselves instead eating away at the more expensive aluminum or steel hull structure themselves. You see, electricity always attacks the path of the least resistance, thus the anodes go first and if you don’t replace them before the hull starts to go, the ship literally sinks. On a more insidious level, just the smallest particle of salt/water molecules in the form of humidity will find its way into any small pathway aboard any boat or structure any where near the water in Gulf Coast regions. About 80% of the replacement steering cables, for instance, are sold once every two to three years to the Southern region; if you live in Wisconsin, your steering cable typically lasts 10-15 years. Saltwater is corrosive and I thank it for my former career’s sake.
It’s bad enough that New Orleans’ surrounding environment consists on almost all sides of this corrosive material. But when that environment leaks into the homes and businesses of the region and stays resident for just about a month, things cannot be good in its aftermath. Add to that millions of gallons of additional chemicals like battery acid, gasoline, cleaning solvents, toxic chemicals, bacterial agents, etc., and you have a very unattractive soup to soak in for a month. The green foliage that contacted this soup is predominantly brown currently. Vehicles submerged partially or in total are now locked into place by brake, transmission and engine components, welded together by iron or aluminum oxides which interacted with sodium chloride or worse during this period. Internal contents of vehicles or homes consisting of more fibrous-like natures are now infested by molds or mildews which have permeated the most inner cores of the material even at the molecular levels.
It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But the molecular degeneration of homes and contents from this alien intrusion cannot be captured by a mere lens. The more recent returnees of this region are likewise–plus more–in awe of the resulting damage viewed on the networks for so long. It’s like a bad joke when you have to say “Well, you had to be there to appreciate it because no one feels like laughing these days. It’s almost as if this minor passage of time would magically transform what once was into what it will be in just a few long years from this present day. Those of us who have been back now for a time have absorbed this initial shock and have moved on with our pessimistic/optimistic perceptions while anxiously reabsorbing our more recent returnees emotions as if their dismay were something new and unique. To tell them to get over it–like we are in the advanced process of doing–serves little purpose but to ignite already fragile emotions. We are all walking a precarious FEMA tightrope which redirects our anger from the ravages of Mother Nature toward an agency too overburdened to please almost anyone.
The violent counter clockwise twist of hurricane winds almost pales in comparison to the inefficacy of any government agency struggling to formulate a policy to get things right for the affected million or so. The difference between today’s FEMA policy and 100’s of other gossip-like reports of what is actually occurring (or not!) is almost as damaging as the demonic cocktail of late August. An official report I heard about SBA loan applications makes one wonder if anything substantive will ever occur. I don’t remember the actual numbers, but out of thousands of applications for loans, not grants, only 86 have been granted! And these were the first ones filed in early September immediately after the storm!
Let me put the scenario in perspective for you lest you forget the depth of this disaster and falsely perceive this to be a minor inconvenience in the scope of things. An entire city was vacated, drenched in water for almost a month, with roof and buildings en masse destroyed by wind and/or tiny tornadoes. Regular tornadoes generate 200+ mile an hour winds for a relatively brief but destructive amount of time. Katrina battered the Mississippi Gulf Coast the worst and New Orleans a little bit less with approximately 150 mph winds (N.O. may have been under 100) for a minimum of 8 hours. Add to that the weakening of structures from water erosion, the breakage of windows in major buildings from flying debris and the induction of that rain water into middle floor rooms and the final blow in N.O. of a deluge that poured from three or more breeched levees which left the city inundated for about a month and you have the formula for one unbelievable, over exaggerated Hollywood blockbuster. The only difference is, it wasn’t a movie. Geraldo got close with his emotional appeals but could only scratch the human surface of the few that remained with no way to address the million that were able to leave. Yes, the rescue effort was a travesty with lackluster governmental parcipitation, but the resulting loss of a normal life for a million people is just now rearing an ugly head which cannot be adequately dealt with.
Presently, New Orleans needs to return to normal with business. About 70% is considered small business which accounts for a majority of jobs in the metropolitan area. But small businesses are being denied or delayed the rescuing capital it will take to keep even a modicum of existence in place. There are very few dwellings intact in the entire city and the hotels in the CBD are currently inhabited by outsiders contracted to clean and rebuild during the initial stages of recovery.
So here’s the dilemma. Business owners need employees. Employees need a place to stay. There are none. If business cannot return because it has no available employees and employees cannot return because they have no job, where does this cycle end? And if you don’t sell stuff to the guy across the street because he has no money because he has no employees then the guy right next door to him can’t either.
If you look at a mythical economic map of current populated areas, commerce and occupied buildings representing the functioning part of New Orleans as it exists today, you would swear you were looking at a map of the city created by Jean Baptiste La Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in 1718. That’s pretty much what’s left intact and functional except for a few isolated pockets throughout the city. And those pockets are about as plentiful as unretrieved doubloons on Bourbon Street late on Mardi Gras night. They may be there but you really have to look for them hard. And I guarantee everyone who has returned to this city has met the same fate of searching through the Mardi Gras debris for just one glimmering eyeful of a shiny anodized treasure buried beneath a carpet of sludge and debris. But that could be considered as the half empty glass of the popular saying.
There is also something going on beneath the surface you do not see on national TV. You see, the waters of Katrina indiscriminately washed away this entire city along with most of her problems, infested plagues which always yearned for absolution but never afforded the cure for one reason or another. And however you deem to classify this scourge, it is an unmistakable fact that in the darkest moments of this city’s history many were taken away and now few return. That’s not my judgment but it is a fact. And I have no idea who in those darkest moments of this city’s history chose to willfully destroy what little remained viable in this town. I don’t want to know who did it; I just want them to stay wherever they are now as long as it’s not in this city.
There is a specific reason I say this. The reason is because I now see a present population focused on one task, a rebuilding of what was taken either by nature or by willful degenerates. I can’t point my finger at anyone because I was not here as thousands of others were not here. But those of us who have returned did not do so out of obligation, reward or force but because what we are returning to is the home we have appreciated and loved whatever the foibles for years. Our choice was not to abandon the city but our plans were to return to it in some semblance of appreciation of our heritage and specific charm. And now what we have returned to has been damaged by Mother Nature. And that we must live with. She is uncontrollable. Water scum can be cleaned away but destructive vermin who remained behind to purposely ravage the lives of evacuated people of this city should be forced to drink the cleansing solutions and odor treatments we returnees have had to be breath and ingest on our own return as we attempt to put civilization back into the morass of human degradation which ruled the city for a few days in early September. And if this offends you, either you don’t live here or you were in places you were not welcomed while others were away.
I have seen the results of looting first hand. Stores were stripped of all valuables in attempts to increase one’s personal fortune, not for survival but for greed. That’s almost acceptable when one considers the evidence that most looted establishments suffered more loss from the utter destruction of the non-valuable components like showcases, lighting fixtures, office records, and such. In one store I witnessed the utter destruction of the infrastructure of an entire business with obvious attacks on the elements which had no value to anyone except the satiation of some macabre primeval force to destroy property because it was there. Useless paperwork strewn from one end of the building to the other with glass cabinets smashed and valuable crystal contents left in place but utterly demolished out of spite for some imagined injustice. Lighting fixtures yanked from the ceiling and crushed on the floor without conscience, not a hapless disengagement due to elemental forces but a hate-filled disregard for sovereignty when the dignity of the perpetrator is forever absent from their own psyche.
It wasn’t a temporary craze but a lustful rape of a city, somewhat like the distasteful accosting of an elderly lady once her family has left the city. And if this rape were isolated, it would be more palatable. But point in any direction and your finger will be indicating the proximity of bile-like bitterness upon innocent property. It was rampant in those early days of the desertion and it’s not any less at this present time. Subtract the life-dependent urges amidst a chaotic storm environ and you are left with predatory animals who have no desire to invest in anything other than personal glory and property acquisition, not that they have worked long and hard hours to earn the distinction but more or less a conceit that what is left is abandoned and therefore free to have with a little lock shimmy or window bash. And what they don’t take or want, they destroy. At least vermin may selfishly destroy walls, doors and minor obstructions to gain their prize which mainly consists of food and such, but I hereby offer my apologies to the actual rodents for using their description in the same paragraph as this human sludge I speak about.
In a previous conversation with others, I used the term “purge” to describe the dispersal of all strata of this community we once shared in New Orleans and quickly brought grief upon myself when following up with a comment addition I made later in reference to the much heralded Decadence Festival, one of the first “normal” articles written about in our local newspaper. I explained I may had been premature in using the term “purge” only to highlight how even with such massive destruction, our city desk chose to highlight the extreme rather than focus on the rebuilding and repopulation efforts which would benefit our city most. Both homophobic (the pictured individual in the article was a well-known transvestite) and racist accusations (the city is predominantly Black) were thrown in my direction because the individual jumped to the conclusion that my meaning was that the “purge” had been incomplete by some Theistic judgment meted out by the Almighty and more of the job needed to be done. That is not what I meant.
What we currently have here in New Orleans is empty space. It was not a voluntary vacation of the premises. It was forced by nature and what ever force you chose to believe is responsible. And with the proliferation of terminology like “biblical in proportion” bandied about by many people and officials who were interviewed, I felt it only appropriate to borrow the implications and segue into that spirit because New Orleans was purged by any definition or source. It was purged of rich and poor alike, white and black and any other color and subsequently left with a beige pallor to a normally year-round green city. Sure, many that were left were either poor or employed in the search and rescue operations. And many of the poor were upstanding, decent people while some of the authority figures who stayed behind were poor in character. One police officer I met weeks earlier in my refuge city and who had been dispatched for a week to help with the rescue effort in New Orleans confided in me that the first five New Orleans Police officers he saw in the field were engaged in the looting themselves! As of this week some fifty plus N.O.P.D. officers–including the Chief–himself have resigned, have been fired or have been arrested and more investigations into misconduct continue. In one major incident, numerous officers were tracked down in far reaching cities as far away as the Carolinas with commandeered vehicles belonging to one local dealership who reportedly had over 50 vehicles absconded during the ordeal. Preliminary reports from police spokesmen described the actions as using the vehicles for patrols but in South Carolina, Baton Rouge, Houston and Dallas?
Houston and some other gracious cities in the region who were kind enough to house and feed thousands of fleeing New Orleanians have now begun to release statistics showing rising crime rates. There have been no murders reported since late August in the city of New Orleans. Drug running activities have ceased to exist. With all due respect to the kind cities so selflessly involved in our citizens’ comfort in the past few months, you may keep these purgees because we sure don’t need that kind of person back. And if that offends anyone, send me your home address and I will gladly list your residence as a shelter for these criminals. New Orleans will welcome back well-meaning individuals of any income level or color who wish to rebuild her. But if you mean to destroy, no amount of whining or shouts of inequality will change this city’s resolve. Things have changed. I hope . . . I pray . . .