Shell Beach. Lake Borgne. MRGO.
Of all the places I’ve visited and revisited on this journey through the past, this place is the most poignant. 163 people are memorialized here. This place is truly sacred ground.
Do I really need to say more?
St. Bernard Parish was nearly wiped off the map. The storm surge was 25 feet. The water rose in fifteen minutes. It left standing water throughout the parish of five to seven feet. It took two months for any real services — electricity, water and so on — to be restored. I remember the first time I saw it after the storm. I thought it would never come back. It has, and is slowly working its way back to full recovery.
The cross is 13 feet tall and made of stainless steel. It won’t rust. It will likely survive another hurricane. Or, be swallowed whole.
Me? My story?
I have maybe one more. Then, it’s going to be mostly pictures for the rest of the week. But first, a short semi-rant. I didn’t know this until yesterday. The city — my city — is offering a resilience tour this weekend. They even designed a logo for it. You can take a disaster tour by ground, water or air. I don’t know what it costs. I don’t want to know. Funny thing. I’ve never thought of myself as a tourist attraction.
Here goes. I went back to school before the storm. I’m not sure what I was thinking. In graduate school you often travel in cohorts. Students with the same interests typically take the same classes, work and study together. You become friends with some. And, some are just work mates. I became friends with a woman who was very honest — too much so — and kind of grumpy. She had good reason. She was recently widowed. Her husband was the love of her life. If I remember correctly, they were high school sweethearts. I don’t know why, but I understood her. And, she was no threat at home. In fact, she was accepted. See what I’m saying?
In the early days after the storm, we all emailed each other to make sure that we survived and were all right. Not just classmates. Friends. Family. Strangers. Everybody. Well, maybe not strangers.
Eventually my friend replied. Her house was not seriously damaged, but she couldn’t reach it because there was deep water between her house and any entry point to the neighborhood. Because she had a lot of money from her late husband’s insurance, she just bought a house in Baton Rouge. She knew it would take a long time for anything to get back to normal. Or, anything close to normal. She offered us a room when we needed one. Of course, it was a brand new house. Baton Rouge was growing before the storm. And, grew exponentially after it. She had no furniture. Hard to buy furniture right after the storm. You know? We sat on the floor. We ate on the floor. We slept on the floor. The dogs thought all of this was a great idea.
That’s not the story. That’s after the story.
Bear with me. I’m having a tough time getting there.
In our exchange of emails, we started talking about what we lost. What we were able to save. And what it would take to return and rebuild. And, then she wrote something else. After everything else.
She wrote, “I lost one more thing.” “I lost my mom.”
She couldn’t say it. Just like I am having the hardest time writing it to you. Ten years. And, I still feel the same way that I did when she told me. My first reaction was “whaaaaaa?” Then, overwhelming sadness.
Her mom lived in St. Bernard Parish. Maybe five or six miles downriver from New Orleans. She was sick. She used a wheelchair. The gulf just rose up and swallowed the land. Remember what I wrote. Twenty-five feet in maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s almost no time to evacuate. An elderly woman living alone and spending her time in a wheelchair never stood a chance.
What was she still doing there? Why wasn’t she evacuated earlier? Good questions, easily answered. We’ve heard rumors of huge storms and been told it’s time to go for many years. Usually nothing comes of it. We got lazy. We didn’t respond. In my case, we should have left town on Friday night or Saturday morning. We left on Sunday morning. We took our time leaving, We had no plan. Now we do. Look what it took.
I’m out of personal stories. I suppose there are a few more. But, I don’t want to plumb those depths. Writing this to you has provided me with a number of unintended consequences. It’s out of me now. I’m peaceful.
No worries. I’m still going to photograph these things. I have a number of places to visit. Besides, it’s not August 29th yet. I’ll tell you what you are seeing. And, how I made the pictures. But…