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September 13, 2005

Surviving in flooded New Orleans

From the last phone call on Monday, Aug. 29, five days dragged by without knowledge and no way to know the condition of my family. My sister and her family got out Friday and found transport to the Houston dome. Through e-mail provided by the Red Cross on Saturday, Sept. 3, we knew she was safe, but still had no idea of the status of my mother, brother and his wife.  It wasn’t until Tuesday evening, Sept. 6, that I received a call from the Red Cross that all three were on their way to Chicago.

From the first point of no contact, our primary concern was that everyone was alive. From my brother, I learned they made plans for a one-week survival, thinking the floodwaters would recede. Water and food was not their only concern.  Apparently, emergency efforts in New Orleans were dedicated to evacuating the Superdome, hospitals and other places of life-threatening situations the first three days after the storm. It was during those days that the highest crime incidents occurred in homes and vandalism on the streets. My brother and mother said they slept with knives at their sides “just in case.” Despite being on the seventh floor, they did hear the windows being broken in the lower levels.  It really wasn’t until Thursday that life supplies came in helicopter drops.  During the weekend, efforts turned from emergency provision allocation to evacuation.

The family solved the boiling water problem by building a makeshift hibachi and collecting wood from the lumber floating in the streets and from the roof. The toilet was still usable when they figured they could use the floodwater in the basement of the apartment building to fill the bowl. Food and water were available by wading and/or swimming to local stores. As the water turned more rancid, my brother and a couple of people developed a network of boat or flotation devices minimizing their time in the water. I was told that maggots would attack within minutes. My brother confessed “to looting” to local media, but glibly qualified it by saying the windows already were broken. Police did not have a problem with the people who were taking needed supplies. The rampant stealing of TVs and jewelry was a concern of the understaffed authorities.

Not only were my family worried about safety while out collecting supplies, it seems the conditions in the apartment turned dark and dangerous. The best way I can describe it is the degeneration of young gentleman in the Lord of the Flies or, most recently, the Gollum character in Lord of the Rings with “ my preciousssss.” I will expand on some of the personalities later.

In my next entry, I will give examples of the good that came out in people too!

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