Wednesday, August 31, 2005


We spent most of the first ten years of our marriage on the Gulf Coast, including a short stay in Biloxi (Keesler AFB), four years at Panama City (Tyndall AFB), and following fourteen months in exile in central California (Modest0), another four years in Zachary, Louisiana, a few miles north of Baton Rouge.

Probably much more than my coworkers and neighbors, then, I have been riveted to the unfolding calamity of Hurricane Katrina. We still have friends throughout the region, some of whom are no doubt suffering at least the loss of power (speaking of coworkers, help is on the way). Even without the human connection, knowing the places which are now underwater or totally missing puts a different spin on the event. As I told a colleague this week, as much as I enjoyed our time in Louisiana, just this week I'm glad not to be there.

I have to add my respect to the efficient evacuation of New Orleans before the storm; frankly, I didn't expect so many in that brash and brazen city to exercise such discretion. Congratulations to not only the Diaspora but to the mayor and the governor for their leadership in this ... no doubt thousands are alive today who would have been drowned.

There's not much I can add to the story at this distance except to say (1) we're praying for you, and (2) here are the best sources of information I've found this week:

The Advocate (Baton Rouge) and WBRZ-TV2 - Reports are the major impacts are loss of power and addition of many, many refugees from New Orleans and surrounding parishes. I read that the schools in Baker and Zachary, almost alone in East Baton Rouge Parish, will be open today or this week. What amazes me is the repeat of Hurricane Andrew, which we rode out in Zachary in 1992; just like Katrina, the weather service seemed to take the attitude that a major storm hundreds of miles across would just shrivel like a salted slug when it touched the Mississippi delta. No need for alarm in Baton Rouge, shoot, it must be a hundred miles from Grand Isle.

Note for New Orleans forecasters: Please ask Charlotte N.C. about Hurricane Hugo, or Raleigh about Hurricane Fran, or for that matter, look at what Andrew did in Baton Rouge. I have a lot of respect for meteorologists, but I have to say it boggled me to read the dismissive predictions for this storm, so similar to the last ones. Obviously NWS offices differ from place to place.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) - publishing in pdf mode since evacuating their building near the Superdome. "Most of our readers are no longer here," some one commented, "but they can get to the Internet and they want to find out what's happening." We spent some time in New Orleans (how could you avoid it?) though not frequently. It sounds as though Jackson Square and the Cathedral fared better than they might have, though Antoine's lost part of a wall on the third floor. (For the record, we only splurged there twice, but it's one of those things like visiting the Opera in Vienna ... quintessential). While I don't know the Ninth Ward, which flooded first and worst, I do remember driving through the levees at different points, where they had pumping stations and flood gates alongside the road. I also remember the long bridges across Pontchartrain, including the I-10 span which is now destroyed.

The Sun Herald (Biloxi) - Biloxi is a narrow strip of land, and our apartment was just across US 90 from the beach, directly under the approach path for Keesler's runway. Every evening about sundown the daily medivac plane would fly over; our cat, Sugar, would sit in the bedroom window and watch it with interest. From reports, nearly everything from the CSX tracks on the south boundary of the base, to the water, is history. I'm waiting to hear if Jefferson Davis' home, Beauvoir, survived.

Update: No, it didn't. The Sun Herald reports: Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home in Biloxi. The bottom floor of the library and the home itself were gutted. A Confederate flag, though, still draped over the arm of Davis' statue in the library. One of the surreal touches which these storms always seem to leave behind.

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