08 March 2006

Hurricane Relief: Day 3

We spent Saturday morning touring the New Orleans area since we had finished our Boys and Girls Club work faster than they expected. Jerry Hilbun, Pastor at FUMC Slidell, prepped us: the levee break decimated the Ninth Ward but the west wall of the hurricane (which is the least of the wind, of course—the worst hit Bay St. Louis and beyond) plus the 17' storm surge covered Chalmette. So we went there first—it's a ghost town but for the Home Depot (newly opened) as abandoned cars line the road (some say "Do Not Remove" in spray paint on the windshields) and many buildings are burned black.

Across the bridge, the NASA plant was unscathed—they sandbagged before the hurricane and went back to work the next day.

The Lower Ninth Ward is rather middle class—cars everywhere, so some ask why they didn't leave. Reason: they had no warning. As we drove toward the 17th Street Canal, the Industrial Levee, we could see the damage increasing. Homes more and more flattened, or leaning, or moved further over—on top of a truck, into the next lot. Or, as we crossed the train tracks (an additional barrier for the Upper Ninth Ward) into the Lower Ninth Ward, completely gone. Where are the houses? There is only debris. 1100 people died in the Lower Ninth Ward alone. The first several blocks from the levee are completely flat—just staircases leading to emptiness, piecemeal washers and dryers, empty photo albums, china strewn about.

I walked to the top of one staircase which had across its top the base of a great tree. Looked down the tree and realized it had fallen diagonal across the house, no other traces of which remain.

I walked up the driveway to another house and entered what would have been the front door. Walking through that ghosted monument to a family, I saw a party dress stuck to tree limbs, as though hung awkwardly out to dry. Tiny Tots kids clothes, dry clean only, the tag still read. Brown crepe and black velvet, crinoline skirt. Wrapped around its same makeshift laundry line, a long piece of white aluminum siding, which clapped loudly in the wind, making an awkward waltz with the two-beat flap of the dress: clap-flap-flap, clap-flap-flap. Then the log packer at the levee joined in for a terrible crash at the beginning of every other measure: pow clap-flap-flap, clap-flap-flap, pow clap-flap-flap, clap-flap-flap.

We all felt a bit sick to be there, Ashlie especially: she had been excited that we were coming but now felt like an invader into the property of the dead and forgotten, a tourist in a graveyard.

Click here for all my photos of the Ninth Ward and the rest of the trip.


Micah said...

What did the record label say? Rejoice?

Jen Strange said...

Yep--Jennifer Bouso found in the rubble a record for a song named "Rejoice" and wanted to brush the dirt off the label for a cleaner picture, but because the label was so fragile, she ended up brushing off the song title itself.