Just an Orphan of the Storm


Calling Buddha.

Once upon a time.

My Spotify playlist brought up a Mudcrutch song. Mudcrutch was the late Tom Petty’s first band. It had an Eagle in it, along with a few members of The Heartbreakers. It was a proto band. Petty decided to release an album of their music in 2006. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It helped us get through the early days after Hurricane Katrina when we sought refuge in New Mexico.

That one song on the playlist brought me to the album, which kicked my rear into gear. Time to start doing the final work on my dual book project, Abandoned New Orleans Books One and Two.

Off I went. Into the archives. I decided to go inside first. Into the buildings as they were, right after Hurricane Katrina. I also decided to let you see some of the pictures. Because? Because why not?

By the way, the line that caught me in that Mudcrutch album was, “”Lord, I’m just an orphan of the storm.” We felt that way.

Because it was still very hot when we returned to the city after the storm, I couldn’t work all day in my house. The heat and humidity was draining. I took breaks by driving around in my car. It had air conditioning It was the only way to get cool. I would stop and make pictures along the way.

Anyway, on to the pictures.

“Calling Buddha” is very close to me. I used to live in that house. It was the last place I lived before I bought the house in Esplanade Ridge. This house used to be in Lakeview. It’s gone now. I liked Lakeview well enough, but it never felt like New Orleans. It was safe and boring. The best thing about living there was that I could walk across the street and have a coffee. Later, I could walk across the street again and have lunch.

It was  on one of my cool-down drives that I decided to look around in Lakeview. If you recall, there were two places were the levees completely failed. The Lower 9th Ward and Lakeview. The water blew through with such intensity that houses were lifted off their foundations. They were dumped on top of other houses. Cars were stacked on top of each other. It looked like a scene from the end of a war. Apparently, the house that I rented had been sold. The kitchen was completely redone. When I lived there, it had a 1950s look and feel. It was wonderful. If you look into the kitchen, you can see wooden Home Depot cabinets.

Anyway.

The backdoor was in tatters so in I went. I had to make pictures. If you look at the crown molding you can see how high the water rose. These folks were lucky the the house stayed on its foundation, which was a cement slab. The rushing, raging water turned everything this way and that. Yet, if you look in the kitchen, there are bowls on the counter just as they were left when the occupants evacuated. Ain’t that something?

Doors, and doors, and doors.

After I settled in a bit, I started roaming around the city. I started looking in Central City a little bit. At that point a lot of the city was empty. It was fairly safe.

I took no chances. Like just about everybody else, I was armed. I remember walking into one of the few open restaurants in the French Quarter, looking around and thinking, pity the fool who comes in thinking he can rob the place. Everybody was wearing guns on their hips. It seemed to be the thing to do. Nobody gave anybody a second look. We shared the restaurant with soldiers from elements of the US Army’s First Cavalry Division and the 82nd Airborne, as well as police from everywhere and members of the Louisiana National Guard. Those guys were armed to the teeth.

Anyway, on one pass through Central City, I found this place. I entered through a broken wall. Somebody had been at work. Whoever it was started the hard work of rebuilding. I guess that person may not have left the city during the storm. A lot of poorer people couldn’t. They didn’t have cars. The busses slated for evacuation were parked in a bowl and were flooded over their roofs. Many of the survivors made their way to the Superdome and the convention center. Places that were supposed to be places of last refuge. They suffered there for days. Most of them were eventually bussed to Houston were they New Orleansized the neighborhoods they settled into. God bless ’em. Others were sent to places like Atlanta while the rest of their family was to someplace like Chicago.

The strangest resettlement happened to us. We rented an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. About a month after we settled there, I walked outside to see my 7th Ward neighbor who lived a few houses from ours. She was staying with her nephew who lived two doors down from our new apartment. If you ever wanted to see two people dance and hug each other, you needed to see us. We were so happy to be alive and know that each other made it. We proceeded to New Orleansize things and have a bar-b-que in the front yard even though we had backyards. Good bless us.

Something mattered.

“The last three days the rain was unstoppable.” Another Tom Petty line.

I made this picture towards the end of the time of my giant house emptying. This time I was able to do what most of us dream of doing. I opened my old office window and threw my water logged computer into the street. How many times have you felt like doing that after your computer crashed for the third time in an hour?

I was looking around the 7th Ward, which had almost been entirely under water during the flood that followed the storm. I was looking into houses that were in a state of partial remediation, which meant that many of them were stripped down to the studs as a way of removing the Aspergillus Mold that grew everywhere in the flooded houses in hot and humid weather. My eye was caught by a little sparkle. I stopped. There it was. A chandelier, hanging by its wires. Something that said, “this is my house.”

There you have it.

We are two weeks from hurricane season. That always spooks me a little. Time to organize some things and buy extra water, batteries and canned food that we’ll never eat unless we need to.

We had God’s own storm early Sunday morning. So much rain was dumped on the city that everywhere flooded. Even our neighborhood, which never floods. Luckily, for us, it did no damage. But, plenty of folks lost their cars. Some water crept into their houses. We all want to blame the city, but not this time. We are city that floods. Time for a t-shirt.

Two more things.

This is long enough already. My publisher was wondering why I have such deep files of abandoned buildings. When I told him, they were stunned. They are based in England. They forgot. Or, barely knew. They haven’t seen my final selection. Just wait until they do. Heh, heh.

There are lots of people who emigrated here after the storm, after the second storm and after the last hurricane. They don’t understand. They think they city will just flood like it does when there is a lot of rainfall. The don’t understand that they need to make an evacuation plan, or figure out what they might need to survive for many weeks without power or running water. Even when I talk about buying supplies that’s for something on the small side. If there is an evacuation order, we are gone. Maybe Hurricane Katrina was a 100 year event. Somehow, with climate change, I don’t think so.

 

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16 Comments

  1. Katrina weakened to a tropical storm not far from us, then blew through town and knocked down 500 trees. Sad to say I think you’re right about climate change. They tell us that 4.27.11, when we survived a direct hit from an EF4, was “generational”. I wish I could believe that.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The meteorologist who says “generational” is looking at past similar outbreaks that have occurred about every 40 years. Not complaining, his coverage that day saved our lives. But a warm Gulf is also part of what fuels tornadic weather, so IMO climate change could intensify storms. And I agree with you, we aren’t countering climate change like we should. So while I always hope for the best weather for everyone, I advocate staying prepared.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s what I thought. We’ve become friends with a young meteorologist who is on the local news. We share a coffee shop with her. We like her on air, because she isn’t a screaming seller. She downplays a lot of weather info, saying that it is about normal for whatever time of year it happens to be. She says that a generation is now defined as 28 years. Of course, she earned her MS degree at LSU, so that could be anybody’s guess. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hard for us too… That summer we had three hurricanes. One was a tropical storm that was upgraded, Katrina and a late hurricane. That’s when I first started thinking about why. The colors are as I saw them.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. No. I rented the Buddha house. A year later I bought the house on Esplanade Ridge which subsequently flooded a few years later after the storm, as did the Buddha house. My Esplanade Ridge survived. The Buddha house did not.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your photos and hearing your personal experience moves me very much, Ray. For years now I’ve watched the documentaries, remembered news footage and reporting and heard personal stories of loss and survival, and yet the scope of the storm and aftermath still shocks me.

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  3. Great post Ray. I typically find and talk about the paradoxical reaction to my abandoned compositions – the beauty of decay versus the sense of loss. Loss usually the result of neglect and or unfortunate financial circumstances. After reading your post I’m humbled; I have never directly experienced a severe environmental impact resulting in such widespread abandonment. It’s so sad, when there is no rebirth from such great loss. Seems any “beauty in decay” is lost in the overwhelming since of loss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keep in mind that a lot of the city did recover. And, I’ve been out in the L9 a lot. The streets leak. The area is so far below sea level that I’m not sure anybody should live out there. I know a lot of people were hurt by not coming home and worse, it is sacred ground, because a large percentage of our death toll was out there, but maybe not returning is for the best. Yes. New Levees were built. But, now the Army Corps says they have about four years to go before they become unsafe again.

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