Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orleans

Home in the Lower NineI've been back from New Orleans for a few days now and have gotten a chance to sort through my thoughts, notes, and research. I went down with the intention of focusing on the rebuilding process and it seems to make sense for me to chop up what I have into three posts. The first up is this post, on the scope and impact of Hurricane Katrina in post-storm New Orleans. The second will look at major factors in the rebuilding process. The third will be a report on the day I put down my pen and camera (mostly) and picked up a crowbar to help ACORN gut a house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

It doesn't take long back in New Orleans to figure out that Katrina is embedded in every fiber of this city's being. It's all "storm," all the time, some 20 months since the storm.

Here's what I mean. On the radio, for example, were advertisements encouraging applications for the HUD-funded Road Home program championed by Governor Blanco, an interview with locals starting an ambassadors program that just sent its first envoy to Boston, and pitches for home demolition services. Actor/write/HuffPo blogger Harry Shearer does ads for and proposing a 9/11-style commission on levees. Talk show hosts discussed how useful local bloggers were in keeping the community updated in the days and weeks after the storm. (The local New Orleans blogosphere -- including honorary New Orleanians like the bloggers at First Draft -- is vibrant and active. More on that later.) Then there were local celebrities promoting the need for New Orleanians to have a voice in the national discourse and talk show hosts ruminating on the importance of New Orleans as an American city.

It just did not end. You hear updates on progress from neighborhood rebuilding projects, talk about wetlands reclamation, and ads from banks encouraging residents to restructure their debt, saying "you survived the storm -- now start your financial rebuilding." One show discussed new reports on post-storm depression rates, especially in kids but in everyone, really -- stemming from lost photos and from parents and grandparents moved away. This isn't right, a woman says. In southern Louisiana, she says, you're supposed to live by your family for life.

Two commentators debated Mayor Nagin's dig on the comparative cleanliness of Philadelphia, with the lead-in, "Ray Nagin is at it again." Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard took questions from callers and Army Corps of Engineers officials delved into where the levees stand now, about six weeks before the start of 2007 hurricane season.

In the French Quarter, "Make Levees, Not War" is emblazoned on mousepads and t-shirts for sale, alongside shirts showing an outline of a FEMA trailer and offering a twist of the New Orleans slogan, "Proud to Call it Home." Then there are "Proud to Swim Home" bumper stickers and t-shirts offering new takes on what FEMA stands for: Fix Everything My Ass or Find Every Mexican Available. Tchotchke shops sell copies of storm books: 1 Dead in the Attic, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, Waters Dark and Deep and Not Left Behind: Rescuing the Pets of New Orleans. The gorgeous Times-Picayune Katrina photo book is for sale in cooking stores in the French Market.

On late night television was a compelling program that offered a comprehensive take on the storm, covering everything from how the levees broke to mold remediation techniques. Between segments, quotes from the House "Bipartisan" Select Committee on Katrina's final report flash on the screen.

Of course, once you spend time in the city, all this is no wonder.

Sheralane Dog Grooming in New Orleans, 2005When I posted earlier that I was going down to New Orleans, several commenters suggested that I delve into the city beyond the Lower Ninth Ward. So I did that. On their recommendations, I explored a handful of racially and economically different neighborhoods: the Lower Ninth (in crude generalizations, black and working-class), yes, but also Lakeview (white and middle-class), Gentilly (racially-integrated and middle-class), New Orleans East (mixed in race and class, as far as I can tell), and Chalmette (white and working-class).

Sheralane Dog Grooming in New Orleans, 2007With just a few hours of daylight left on my first night, I found myself in New Orleans East. One of the first places I headed was the Sheralane Dog Grooming Shop on Downman Road. I had driven past Sheralane when I was in town in October, 2005, about a month after the storm. On that trip, I was so chilled by the spray-painted notices like "Dead Dog Left in Crate." (Something about animals...their fates are probably just easier to let my mind contemplate.) And when I visited again on April 21, 2007, and it looked little different from the outside, other than that those markings were just barely painted over.

two houses in New Orleans' Ninth WardSo much still looks the same in New Orleans. (I have a full set of photos up on Flickr.) So many houses still bear the spray-painted markings on their doors and faces from the first days of the storm. Still, there's progress. Houses have been gutted, there is construction here and there. I toured neighborhoods, the Ninth Ward and New Orleans East, for example, where I would see one rebuilt and landscaped house on an otherwise empty street. In one neighborhood, I found a boy of maybe nine years old shooting hoops on the street, alone, and not another soul around -- other than me and the folks in the National Guard humvee rolling by.

The whole city is a study in contrast, but Lakeview in particular. In a strip mall there, there was a women's clothing store (photo) that I swear I was the first person to set foot in since the storm. Like so many of the buildings still vacant in the city, the door is left wide open. That Clothing Place in LakeviewA brand new shoe store stood next to a completely wasted fast food place. In the Lower Ninth Ward, one house had a bed post still sticking through the front window, still strung with Mardi Gras beads. On the front porch sat a television set and some children's toys. Those back had hung signs that say, "Welcome Home, Holy Cross Neighborhood," (Holy Cross is a section of the Lower Nine) and "We're Home -- Rebuild the New New Orleans." Also in the Lower Nine, someone has painted his car with the plea "I'm Back. RU?"

In Chalmette, signs lashed to fences read "St. Bernard Proud -- We're Coming Back!" (photo) Still, piles of trash and debris five and ten feet high sat in front of gutted houses, apartments, and stores (photo). After a hot afternoon in Chalmette, I went into Brewster's, a restaurant offering "Fun, Food, and Spirits" and newly reopened in an otherwise-empty shopping center (photo). The neon signs out front and inside advertised various brands of beer. When I order one, the waitress seemed a bit taken aback and says, "oh no, not yet."

"I'm Back. RU?"A FEMA trailer parked in front yard and in driveway is a sign of progress (photo). It means that the homeowner has gotten some FEMA money and that the neighborhood has a clean water hook-up, and that's no small feat some 20 months after the storm. When I talked trailers with Mary Rickard, ACORN's web campaign coordinator, she had a great quote -- "When George Bush says to be patient...In his next life, he's going to have to live in a FEMA trailer."

Of course, that boy playing basketball in New Orleans East needs to go to school. Leaving the neighborhood one day, I passed by a school building. What struck me was that the door to the library was propped about half-opened. The gate to the school grounds was also opened, so I stopped the car and went in. Amazing, the way it still looked (photo). A friend of mine who is doing PhD work in sociology with a focus on disasters says that the photos I showed her of the Barbara C. Jordan in New Orleans East remind her of Chernobyl. A moment stuck in time, late August, 2005.

A Globe is What's LeftSchools, of course, need not only students but teachers and landscapers and food workers and principals. What will it take to bring people back to New Orleans? Infrastructure, for one thing. They need schools and stores and electricity and water and roads. Livability of the city is a problem, and crime certainly is too. I keep coming back to the idea that it seems just so difficult for residents to get firm footing in the city, no solid ground to start building on. The Lower Nine, for example, lacks grocery stores (and did so before the storm), schools, hospitals, and religious services. It's not exactly a situation that screams 'welcome home.'

You have to wonder if the people who have moved back in and rebuilt lives here -- almost like frontiersman -- are courageous or, shoot, just a bit crazy. But those brave souls may well be what it takes to get the city growing to the point where momentum takes over. They are attempting to regrow the city from the bottom up, house-by-house, business-by-business.

Mary, Doing Her BestOne aspect of New Orleans circa 2007 that is still so striking to me is the water line. You see it everywhere in the city, from the sides of homes in New Orleans East to the overpass support pillars in Lakeview, a line of muck showing just how high the waters rose -- and stayed, of course, for days and day and days (photo).

Along those lines, my mom (who is from Cottonport in central Louisiana) met me in New Orleans and we went up towards Monroeville, Alabama for a local production of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Along the way, we stopped in Mobile and went to the excellent A Day in Pompeii exhibit at the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center there. The sudden eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D., killed about 2,000 and the diagrams showing the lines to which the ash rose, the stories of people trapped on second floors -- the similarities to Katrina are a bit eerie. (Also looking forward to Hurricane on the Bayou, an IMAX movie on the survival of Louisiana's wetlands that wasn't getting to Mobile until June 1 but is now playing around the country . If you happen to be in DC, it's now playing at the Museum of Natural History.)

All signs point to this being a long, hard, slow slog. New Orleans is New Orleans, for better and for worse -- city living that's less about granite countertops and central air conditioning and more about old urban life. Mary Rickard suggested that Americans living in newer cities might not get understand what's important about a city as old and as gritty as New Orleans. She put it well: "If you've always lived in a new city, new is better. So many cities in America are interchangeable. People don't get why we just don't move to Salt Lake City."

So it goes for New Orleanians. For whatever reason, it was as I sat in the Clover Grill (motto: "we love to fry and it shows") in the French Quarter eating a grilled cheese and tator tots, with Natalie Cole singing "Pink Cadillac" on the stereo system, and enjoying the spectacle of Vic the waiter and the fry cook berating each other back and forth over who messed up an omelette order, that I realized that I have a great deal of love for this place and that it would just be a damn shame should we lose this city.

Next post: rebuilding the homes of New Orleans.

Tags: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Since the Storm (all tags)



Right on...

With your "all Katrina, all the time" comment. I can't tell you how many times friends will talk about Olive Garden and I'll remember the one we used to have. It's the little like that that really hit home. Things like how I now have to drive an hour to go to any decent clubs. The small piles of wood and debris. The wood chips that STILL are washed up on the beach shore. The bricks and pieces of building that one can find in the sand up to 30 feet from the shore, in both directions. The amazement at seeing a Wendy's rebuild where it once used to be, and feeling HAPPY over it. The somewhat scared feeling you get when you see "Trespassers will be shot" still spraypainted on the side of a building that has seemingly long been abandoned. Or the emptiness that comes from seeing lot after lot of cleared land.

And I'm just stationed in Biloxi... I don't even have family here.

by LnGrrrR 2007-05-01 01:12PM | 0 recs

Heard you on the MyDD Podcast.  U R Fabulous.  Thanks for all of your efforts.

by flerkk 2007-05-01 01:38PM | 0 recs

Are they east or west of Keesler AFB? East of there... in the 'downtown' section? It's pretty bad. I hit a pothole over there that could bury half my car (and nearly did.)

by LnGrrrR 2007-05-01 01:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle

Thanks a bunch for this.  Well done.

by ray in new orleans 2007-05-01 02:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle

Nancy, did you make it to Mississippi as well.

by robliberal 2007-05-01 03:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle
Unless driving up I-10 on the way to Mobile counts, unfortunately, no, not this trip. I plan to on the next one.
by Nancy Scola 2007-05-01 04:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle

Thank you. I'm always hungry for information from N.O.

by jnfr 2007-05-01 04:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina

These break my heart.

And, when I hear about the Aid that was rejected by this country, it breaks my heart even more.

by rikyrah 2007-05-01 05:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle

Thank you. It's so important that people understand what's going on here. We never get away from Katrina news. I'm one of the people who has actually decided it was crazy to come back. I'm not cut out for frontier living. When watching the news or talking to your friends about what happened can still make you cry 20 months later it's just time to move on. Please keep up the good work.

by Manly Pointer 2007-05-02 01:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle

I appreciate your taking the time to go to Chalmette. As I mentioned in your earlier thread, I spent a summer down there in the early 1980s and it was a pleasant, albeit bland, middle-class suburban community. I had hoped from seeing plenty of nice, blue swimming pools on Google maps that the community had rebounded. But I wasn't aware that Google had reverted to pre-Katrina images (even some of their NYC pictures are old) and it is heartbreaking to see the excellent images you brought back.

The images seem to imply that the economic situation there is still pretty dire and I hope your future posts will include some economic anecdotes from folks you talked with down there. You can't lift yourself up by your bootstraps if your boots washed away in the flood, eh?

I also appreciate the images of the religious iconography. So much for the line that Katrina was God's punishment on a godless city.

by ProgressiveChristian 2007-05-02 06:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina

Great piece Nancy, and thank you for visiting Gentilly. (We hope to be back in our house there soon.)

Here in the City we don't talk much about Katrina: it's about the Federal Flood in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. This was not an act of Nature, but a  spectacular series of failures on the part of the Corps of Engineers.

(BTW- It's raining like crazy, my block is flooding, and I just heard that the new drainage pumps the Corps bought from a company with ties to Jebbie Bush aren't working natch)

by GentillyGirl 2007-05-04 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Since the Storm: No End to Katrina in New Orle

One point you make that is so true....we live Katrina (rather, the Federal Flood) every day.

Great story. Thanks.

by TM 2007-05-04 06:12PM | 0 recs
I followed up this post with one focused on rebuilding: Since the Storm: Between Here and Rebuilding.
by Nancy Scola 2007-05-04 06:26PM | 0 recs
Just some simple do it your self mold clean up

Do It Yourself Mold Clean Up

1. Eliminate Water Intrusions
Most importantly, the source of the water accumulation must be identified and fixed or fungal growth will continue to occur. If you have a high relative humidity in a room or area (55% or higher), then you should strongly consider a dehumidifier. To determine the relative humidity, you will need a relative humidity sensor, also known as a moisture meter or hygrometer.

If you experienced severe flooding or a water leak, then you want to remove or pump out the standing water, followed by drying the area. If the area is really wet, you will want to use fans and dehumidifiers. You may also want to move wet items away from walls and off floors.

The quicker you address the problem, the less extensive the damage will be since it may only take 24-48 hours for toxic black mold to germinate and grow. Prompt remediation of contaminated areas and materials should be the primary response to water intrusion and indoor fungal growth.

2. Minimize Dust and Seal Off Area (Negative Pressure)

Before removing the black mold, take the necessary steps to prevent the mold spores from spreading to other areas of the house or building. Since toxic black mold spores will likely be stirred, becoming airborne during the cleaning process, you need to properly contain each area being cleaned, while also minimizing dust (a primary means of transportation for mold spores).

Toxic Black Mold Containment:

Each room or area should be cleaned separately, one at a time. Before cleaning each room or area, you should seal it off as best as you can. This will prevent the mold from disseminating to other areas of the home or building while it is being cleaned, since cleaning can disturb and stir up the mold, causing mold spores to become airborne.

Once they become airborne, they can spread to other areas to germinate and colonize, unless the area being cleaned is properly sealed.

Properly sealing (or containment) of a room or area consists of using plastic

sheeting sealed with duct tape to cover doorways, vents, and other openings to occupied areas of the home or building.

If possible, you should place an exhaust fan next to an open (or partially open) door or window that is open to the outdoors. This will create negative air pressure, which will direct air flow outside, and therefore mold spores that have been stirred during cleaning will also be channeled outside. Just make sure the door or window is not near an air exchange that brings outdoor air into the home.

You should also turn off the HVAC system before cleaning Mold. Don't Spread it around your Home or Business.

Minimizing Dust:

Maintain dust levels as low as possible during cleaning to prevent spores from becoming airborne and spread to other areas. This will reduce the risk of exposure for those who are cleaning while reducing the potential for the mold spores landing and germinating in other parts of the home or building.

You may want to use an air purifier to minimize the airborne particulate, which allows mold spores to disperse to other areas of the home or building.

Ionizers are typically better than air filters, since they can remove smaller particles from the air, and do not rely on particulate passing through them in order to remove them from the air.

3. Cleaning the Toxic Black Mold

If the surface(s) you are cleaning are dry, or mostly dry, you should lightly mist them with water before cleaning the mold. If the mold is too dry, then the mold spores will have a much better chance of becoming airborne while being disturbed during the cleaning process.

Once the surface is lightly misted (if necessary), then clean the affected area(s) with soap to remove as much of the mold as possible, and then apply a disinfectant to kill mold spores that are left behind. Thoroughly clean all surfaces in the area that contain visible mold, and even surfaces that do not have visible mold, since mold spores are microscopic very durable, and can remain dormant for months or even years.

Once a surface has been cleaned and disinfected, it should be completely dried.

In which case, if mold spores are left behind, and are introduced to moisture again in the future, then you will have another significant mold growth problem on your hands.

Non-porous material such as metals, glass, hard plastics, and semi-porous materials include wood, concrete, etc, that are structurally sound with some visible mold growth may be cleaned and reused.

If the contamination is not too severe, porous material may be cleaned and reused.  If the damage is extensive and the mold growth has visibly destroyed porous items beyond repair, they may need to be removed and replaced.  Examples of porous materials are ceiling tiles, insulation, wallboards, carpet, soft furnishings, clothes, papers/books, etc.

All material that has been cleaned should be completely dry and visibly free of mold before it is reused and before sensitive individuals are exposed to it.  

4. Removing the Toxic Black Mold

Carefully remove and discard mold and mold-infested materials into heavy-duty plastic bags. Double Bag. Do not transport the bags throughout the house, especially other clean areas. Doing so will risk further spreading and re-germinating of the mold.  

Instead, it is a good idea to get the bags outside through a window or other opening accessible to the room/area being cleaned, if possible. These bags with the mold contaminated materials can be taken to any landfill.  

5. Verifying the Mold Clean-Up Job was Successful

1. First and most importantly, you must have completely fixed the moisture problem to rid the home of excess water.

2. Mold removal should be complete. If this step is completed properly, there should not be any visible mold and musty/mildewy odors present (toxic black mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage).

3. There should not be any more signs of additional moisture/water damage or any recurring mold growth in the home/area.  If either of these problems resurface, there may be an underlying or hidden problem and a more extensive investigation of the home is necessary.

4. Physical symptoms of the occupants should be greatly reduced and even ceased.

Protecting Your Health During Black Mold Clean-Up
Exposure to molds can occur during clean-up procedures since mold counts can be extremely high in the contaminated area. However, there are ways you can minimize your exposure to mold during clean-up procedures.  It is not recommended for those who may be at increased risk for experiencing adverse health effects to perform the clean-up procedures or be in or around the area during clean-up, such as those with any kind of lung or allergy-related health conditions (like asthma or allergies).  

Also, if the mold growth is extremely severe, you may need a professional to remediate the problem. If you do require a professional mold remediation contractor, make sure they are certified, and have multiple references you can check to validate the quality of their work.

1. Wear Respirator

Wear a medium-efficiency or high-efficiency filter dust mask or respirator to protect against the inhalation of mold spores. For the best protection, choose a respirator designed for particle removal such as the model N95 or TC-21C particle respirator.

2. Clothing

Wear protective clothing that is easily removed, cleaned, and that covers all areas of the body to prevent against any dermal (skin) exposure.  You may even want to choose a protective outer layer that can be discarded such as a Tyvek suit. Other personal protective equipment that should worn are rubber gloves and eye goggles.

3. Evacuate

Ask any family members or houseguests to leave the area during clean-up, if they are not part of the clean-up process. Especially if they are in a high risk group for experiencing adverse health effects from the exposure to mold.

4. Work in Short Intervals

If the damage is extensive and requires many hours of cleanup, work over short time periods and rest in a fresh air location.

5. Moldy Materials

Enclose all moldy materials in sealed, plastic bags before carrying them away.

6. Seal Off Area

Hang plastic sheeting to separate the work area from the rest of the home. Also, use plastic to seal off ducts in the area where you are working, to prevent spores from traveling through the ductwork into other parts of the home or building.

7. Containment

Remove the outer layer of work clothing inside the work area, and wash it separately or bag it for disposal.

8. Air Out / Dry

Air the area out well after cleaning is finished.  It may be helpful to use fans and dehumidifiers.

9. Air Purification

Using an air purifier will reduce the spores in the air that can be inhaled, or carried to other parts of the home or building to re-germinate.

Ionizers are typically better than air filters, since they can remove smaller particles from the air, and do not rely on particulate passing through them in order to remove them from the air.

Cleaning Black Mold in the HVAC System
For the most part, the same cleaning procedures listed above apply to cleaning the HVAC system. Here are some additional things to remember though:

1. Clean the cooling coil (using same procedures listed above). If there is any rusting, then it should be replaced.

2. Clean the drain pan (using the same procedures listed above). If there is any rusting, then it should be replaced.

3. Remove and properly dispose of any interior insulation (insulation inside the ductwork).

4. Replace the filter, preferably with a HEPA filter.

5. Have the ducts professional cleaned only if they are very dirty. Make sure your duct cleaning professional does not allow the dirt and dust from the ducts to enter into the rest of the home or building. nup.htm

by startremodeling 2007-10-18 01:18PM | 0 recs


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