New Orleans - Crying for Life

Posted in United States , Other | 19-Dec-05 | Author: Erhard Boettcher and Joachim Reppmann

David Eldridge, victim of the hurricane, begging for money.
David Eldridge, victim of the hurricane, begging for money.
Which lessons should be learned from hurricane Katrina and the Flood that caused broken levees, more than 1000 dead people, and huge heaps of rubble? Far away from the Gulf of Mexiko big headlines on the disaster have mostly disappeared, but questions do remain much longer. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas sorrow and tears are vanishing slowly, confidence and energy are reprising room, and discussions about rebuilding und protecting the city are up to date. Most of the inhabitants want New Orleans to survive, but it seems that the new city, after the greatest natural disaster in US history, will be smaller than the old one.

Who could believe that? The population figure of the New Orleans in its city limits has shrunk from 460,000 to 60,000 people because of the hurricane. 400,000 people are living in hotels and emergency accomodations, or they have found shelters in the homes of relatives and friends. If und when will they turn back to areas with reconstruckted buildings – who knows? In Advent still wooden boards mark hundres of shut stores – even in the main central Canal Street close to the French quarter. Garbage collectors don’t stop to cart together thousands of tons of debris. Wrecked furniture and equipments, trees, bushes and mud must be piled resounding mile by mile on garbish dumps and even in parks.

Closed streets, changing detours, and damaged stoplights are changing short trips by car to little adventures. Police and armed forces care for security after the government of chaos and violence in the first days after Katrina. Many streets are uninhabited; the asphalt often is brittle and blurred. Sometimes little oddities remind people passing by, that once human beings actually lived in awfully destructed houses: At an entrance there stands a life-size Santa Claus and on a balcony a lonesome rocky horse. The kids once riding it are far away. Will they ever return?

„The Times-Picayune" in the damaged city fights for the survival of New Orleans despite of all costs and difficulties. The journalists of the paper, the city government, and the residents, whether now living at home or abroad, want to rebuild their home city lying down to five feet under sea level. Maybe people and institutions avoid to erect buildings in the deepest parts. But anyhow - Jarvis DeBerry, Editorial Writer of the “Picayune” underlines: “We need a better system of levees constructed by more oversight of engineered building. And I want close attention. Staff and facilites nowadays belong to seven offices.” In special issues some years ago Mark Schleifstein and other editors of the paper had already warned, what the worst case of a hurricane could mean for New Orleans.

The “Picayune” is very angry about voices in Washington wanting retirement. An editorial of November 20 stresses: “We need to be safe. We need to be able to go about our business feeding and fueling the rest of the nation. We need better protection next hurricane season than we had this year.” The paper goes on addressing critical voices in the US capital: “We are foolish, the say. We settled in a place that is lower than the sea. We should have expected to drown.”

But the “Picayune” reminds politicians: “The federal government decided long time ago to tame the river and the swampy land” – to create a foundation of prosperity. New Orleans forgotten, a burden? No question for the paper: “We have to stand up for ourselves. Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina. Remind them that this is a singular American city and that this nation still needs what we can give it.”

Dean Ellis, barkeeper in „The Bombay Club“ in the French Quarter and radio showmaster in New Jersey, agrees: “We need a preparation for better protection for New Orleans, and we want to preserve our multicultural tradition.” Lisa Zalewski at the reception desk of the “Prince Conti” Hotel in the French Quarter, is sure: “We will rebuild our city piece by piece, as wie always did after hurricanes and fires.” Catering manager Kim Colson-Brickley loves New Orleans too and wants to stay, but with some irony she says: “We are surrounded by water und living in a soup bowl. We are crazy to live here.”

Hurricane expert Mark Schleifstein at his computer.
Hurricane expert Mark Schleifstein at his computer.
Brigitte Malm from Lower Saxonia in Germany, since 40 years in New Orleans, once employeed in the Foreign Service and assistant in several German-American establishments, means: “Certainly, a good deal of things went wrong in the time of Katrina, but help can’t be present within a few hours; in this respect the expactations where too capacious. Many people left there homes without anything and thought they could turn back after two days. Unfortunately there were no evacuation plans for nursing homes and hospitals. We must learn of failures in coast protection und decide whether to stay or to go.”

The Director of the City Park in New Orleans, Bob Becker, is sure that New Orleans has to survive and wants to secure and renew his great estate: „Can you imagine New York City without Central Park? The bottom line is that City Park’s revitalization is a key to making the reconstuction of New Orleans successful and to improving quality of life in a city that now, more than ever, needs beautiful green spaces. Just like the food and the music, City Park is New Orleans, its past, its present, and its future.”

An important center for poor, disabled, and old people is the Kingsley House. Since the early start in 1896 it helped more than 500,000 people to live and to survive, to be educated and to maintain health. “The urgency of the Kingsley House mission is more significant now than ever before,” Executive Director Keith H. Liederman underlines. “Many of us have lost our homes and jobs, many of the children in our community are without functioning schools, and every single one of us had to experience the vulnerability of displacement and the loss of all that is familiar and ,normal’.” But life goes on, as Liederman stresses: “We will continue to devote all of our energies and resources to our mission of ,educating children, strengthening families, and building community`.”

Sometimes it seems too hard to live on. There is for instance the 41 year old Delores suffering under cancer and a back disease. But during the hurricane she unterwent the worst a mother can undergo by loosing her son. For some weeks she lived in a room of a hotel in Memphis (Tennessee), paid by the American Red Cross. “I found my son dead at a stop signal,” the mother tells. “Soldiers hat tied him at his knuckle; so the flood could not take him away.” The Delores has lost nearly everything and lives together with her sister. What about the future? “I want to go back to New Orleans and to bury my son in a special funeral.” Her blue eyes are full of sorrow, but everybody looking at her can read the words: “I want too live.”

Tough people willing to survive – despite of a lot of pain they appear all through New Orleans. Sevilla White Finley, President of The Friends of the German-American Cultural Center, tells about a friend: “Many of our members have lost houses, jobs, and cars. Rachel rescued herself advanced in pregnancy. She has lost her home, but in October she gave birth to her son Alexander Barrois.”

Some people even didn’t loose there sense for humor and irony. There is for instance the anecdote of an old couple, both about 80 years old, that survived on the roof their house, where they had climbed up after having smashed the upper ceiling with an ax. They had just escalated into a rubber dinghy of the police, when the woman said in the middle of the dark, inundated street: “Oh my God, I forgot to lock the front door.”

And in the German House there was a guy who survived under curios circumstances: The Afro-American Ellis Quinn, caretaker since seven years, could survive by eating schnitzel, sauerkraut, and red cabbage. Shortly before the hurricane the food had already been stored for the upcoming traditional Octoberfest, where normally about 10,000 people show up. Ellis left his sleeping birth at the wooden regulars’table because of the quickly rising flood and went into the second floor before being rescued.

Ellis Quillin, caretaker of the German House, had to vamoose from his sleeping bench. He survived with food for a…
Ellis Quillin, caretaker of the German House, had to vamoose from his sleeping bench. He survived with food for a scheduled German Oktoberfest.
Other special stories are told by the editors of “The Times-Picayune”. Katrina battered the big window of the editor-in-chief Jim Amoss; so afterwards he slept among his team on a mattress in the open-plan office. The hurricane had just passed its climax, when two young reporters made a tour of their own: Without any advance notice James O’Byrne and Douglas MacCash took their bikes and drove through the streets of a dieing city, where ten thousands of people still fought to survive. After a six hour odyssey they returned with shocking news: “The levees must have been burst!” The newspaper survived and Amoss tells: “When the first copies after the hurricane arrived on the bajous, people were deeply moved and wept.”

The big will to survive as well was to be seen in the first New Orleans concert given by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) after the catastrophy. On November 30 the St. Louis Cathedrale in the French Quarter was overcrowded from the altar to the entrance. Archbishop Alfred Hughes welcomed some hundred visitors yearning for being together and listening to the wonderful music. After this touching start there followed a Christmas tour of the orchestra in the different urban districts between damaged hopes.

Many people are caring for the bottom of the souls of human beings. Pastor Heinz Neumann, managing the German Seaman’s Mission, after his rescue came back to his damaged house. He stresses: “There is no total security.” And: “It is within personhood not to give up, but to start at the beginning, again and again.” And here is the voice of Executive Director Keith H.Liederman, leading a center caring for welfare, health, and education of poor and disabled people: “The urgency of the Kingsley House mission is more significant now than ever before. We will continue to devote all of our energies and resources to our mission of educating children, strengthening families, and building community.”

Mary-Ella Quinn is a captain in the Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief Organisation. As a “professional volunteer” she belongs to a unit delivering 11,000 meals a day and supplying shower cabins in New Orleans. „God wanted to unite us,” Mary-Ella says. “Our values in America have decaded, and now we know what is important again.” However, the world beyond the region seems to have forgotten the area of the catastrophy, Mary-Ella adds. After having seen so much damage and and pain, the City Editor of the “Picayune”, David Meeks, is avering a deep belief: “Never take for granted the pieces of your life that value our life.”