Update from New Orleans

Ideas and Issues Labor Organizing Personal Writings Rebuild New Orleans

New Orleans       When I woke before dawn this morning there was the same acrid smell of burning fires that greets you in Delhi, but I was home.  It means there was a fire that our low water pressure could not handle and another abandoned building still standing in the wake of Katrina, had now fallen.  From reading the paper I gather that depression has set in on the New Orleans.  The pace and labor of rebuilding are bringing folks down.  Mental health — not so good!  I swear I didn’t notice.  Probably too far gone already.

There’s no question it’s a slog.  In the tradition of giving some occasional updates on the fight to bring the city back, here are some notes from the front.

* Sunday it rained.  We have been in a drought since the hurricane.  Power was out at my folks for two hours.  We were lucky.  The surge shut power down and it came right back up in Bywater.

* Earlier last week on two separate afternoons, I had to send the accounting staff and any computer enslaved personnel home once at 330 pm and another time at 415 pm because power disappeared at the office.  We read later that 15,000 homes and businesses were shut down.  Entergy would only say they were waiting for federal support.  New Orleans is a city in the developing world now.  We are not part of any America that you might know.

* How about mail?  We still do not get magazines.  The postman will look you in the eye and say that they are now carrying magazines, but you have to call or go on-line and press for each subscription to be reactivated.  The New Yorker says that they will send me the July 10th edition.  Atlantic Monthly says look in September, and sorry.  Harpers sent me an e-mail and said maybe 6-8 weeks. 

* Newspapers?  We get the Times-Picayune now regularly.  My brother lives 8 blocks away and his paper started running about a month ago.  The New York Times showed up again at my folks 2 weeks ago.   I called.  They say they will have a supervisor get back to me.  I wonder if I will live long enough?

* Garbage pickup comes once a week.  Sorta.  They picked up ours last week and did not bother with my brother’s trash.  Meanwhile street corners near vacant lots and along the rail road tracks become scattered dump sites.   At the office we finally had some people just haul it away.

* The contract was finally let for the abandoned cars.  This is good news!  One of the dead cards around the block from me is already gone.  The burned car near the Press Street tracks is gone.  This is progress.  There are many, many more to go!

* My tire guy told me while fixing my fourth flat since coming back to town that there were not as many flats coming in from roofing nails — that’s progress, though I had trouble believing it — he said my flat came from a bolt.

* It’s 10 months since the storm and counting.  No federal money has moved.  Insurance money is almost as slow.  Progress is being defeated at every turn.

* There is still no planning process in the city.  More accurately we have three or so that are not coordinated and that doesn’t count the individual efforts in the neighborhoods, like our own partnerships.

* The largest union in the city before Katrina was the 5000+ member United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO/AFT).  The publicly elected school board let their contract expire on June 30th.  6500-7500 school employees have been fired.  There are only 125 teachers working in the 4 public schools still remaining under the school board.  We now have 5 different school systems competing to do little of nothing:  public, state recovery, charter associations, private, and parochial.  You figure.  Parents are confused.  Children are lost.

* There’s now an August 29th deadline to clean-out the houses.  Public money isn’t paying for a single house though, so this is a preposterous notion being promoted without thought by the re-elected Mayor.  Even the Times-Picayune agrees that it’s too soon.

Like I said, we’re optimistic, but it’s a slog. 

July 3, 2006

The levee breach in the lower 9th ward still in the process of being repaired at the beginning of June.