She’s given permission for linking and quoting, so herewith are excerpts from author Poppy Z. Brite’s latest status report from NOLA, written from there for those “not from here.” Last month here I provided some other links for up to date information on life in that area.
It’s not a pretty picture, what Poppy says:
WHY NEW ORLEANS IS NOT OK, SEVEN MONTHS ON
. . . I present to you a baker’s dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.
1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn’t flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the “uninhabitable sections,” there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.
2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.
3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup — either FEMA or municipal — for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.
4. There are no street lights in many of the “uninhabited” sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.
5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don’t work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.
6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.
7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, a freelancer, but it’s crippling for people who work “normal” hours.
. . .
9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now — the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her — and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.
. . .
12. Many of the FEMA trailers — you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each — have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn’t have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house’s power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. . . .
13. A large percentage — I’ve heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% — of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting “expert” gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.
I’ve just read Simon Winchester’s A Crack in the Edge of the World, an undisciplined and apparently un-edited romp through plate tectonics and other aspects of geology, and a bit about the great 1906 California earthquake which hit San Francisco.
If you believe the subtitle (“America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906″), the San Francisco quake is the actual subject of the book. So much for truth in advertising. Unless of course the author considers the introductory “America and” his license to ramble and digress and repeat himself ad nauseam. Dare I suspect that the book was rushed to print to exploit the author’s prior best-selling successes, in time for the 100th anniversary – April 18 – of the quake? But now I digress. Oh dear. Back to my point, if I have one.
As Winchester’s book does mention, the fires which the earthquake set off raged for days and flattened a staggering amount of the city – undoubtedly the fires did more damage than the quake alone. Yes, kind of like the Katrina + levee collapse one-two punch that struck 99 years later, half a continent away.
Winchester’s book left me wanting to know more about the SF disaster, so I’m picking up a few more books to read. Thinking of NOLA and the Gulf Coast all the while.
How did the folks left living in San Francisco 100 years ago cope and go forward? I suppose with the same grit and creativity and sheer bloody stubbornness that the people in NOLA and the rest of the Katrina-ravaged U.S. Gulf Coast are finding in themselves right now. Day in and day out.
Beyond a tiny step in getting the word out, I don’t know what I can do to help.