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What Would You Save?

Moondance started her very own meme asking this:

If you had a few days warning that a massive storm was coming, that might rip your roof off and flood your house and all your belongings, what would you take with you when you evacuated?

This is not a theoretical question for many people in Florida and the gulf coast, who live with the hurricane season every year, and who have (some more than once) been faced with such a storm and lived through it. I am sure that changes your perspective about what’s important. Not only for immediate survival (a cooler, milk, water, batteries) but to keep going after the disaster relief workers and the news reporters turn to another group in trouble.

So my question (I can’t believe this turned into a meme) is: What would YOU save?

With Katrina, I totally freaked out.  What to bring?  What to leave?  We were in a small car and had three animals to travel with.  So it was slim pickin’s.  With Gustav, we had a bigger car and one less pet.  But we’d added Sun.  Funny thing is that the things I took both times were about the same:

1.  Clothes, shoes, toiletries, and the like.

2.  Current knitting project and book, as well as toys for Sun, for distraction.

3.  Cell phones, laptops, iPods, camera, video camera, and chargers.

4.  Important papers, including current files I am working on, papers for CS’s business, and vaccination papers for the pets in case they needed to be boarded.

5.  Pictures, genealogy info, baby books and the like were relocated to a safe, dry location but not taken on the road with us.

6.  One of my vintage mah jong sets.  It seemed silly to bring even one, but I couldn’t resist.  We played it in Gustav.

7.  Jewelry.  What little I have that is nice.

Not much, eh?  What we didn’t bring that I would have been most heartbroken had we lost was our art.  We have a LOT of art, mostly local.  No piece is worth a lot, but it’s our collection and we love it.  But packing art is hard to do and could be damaged in the process.  So we took our chances.

Furniture? Eh.  I like a few pieces a lot, but only 3 pieces are irreplaceable.  And taking furniture is not practical.

The rest of our stuff—we do have nice kitchen stuff—is just stuff.  I have learned over and over (Katrina, gall bladder surgery, Gustav) that all that matters to me in my life I can fit snugly in my car.  With elbow room.

Maybe that is why the thought of evacuating isn’t so scary to me.  The nuisance isn’t packing all my valuables (ha!), it’s dealing with the traffic.  Plus, I come from a long line of “stayers.”

So, now your turn.  What would YOU save?  I hate tagging folks, but I really want to know if your answer is similar to mine or if you’d need to own a U-Haul to live in the Gulf area to deal with evacuations.  So let us know.  Link back to Moondance’s original post and please e-mail me so I be sure not to miss it.

Not a Big Enough Story

Gustav is already old news.  It’s over and caused no harm.  That’s what the news would suggest, no?  Well, that is not true.  And the frustration of media ignoring the very real damage that lay in the wake of Gustav has sparked me to write this to get the word out.

Baton Rouge, Terrebone and Lafourche Parishes, including the United Houma Nation, all suffered substantial water and wind damage; downed trees; no electricity.  Many in these areas are being told it will be weeks, if not months, before power will be restored to their homes and businesses.

Here’s an excerpt from a September 1st letter from the US Conference of Mayors:

While the nation focuses on Minneapolis and St. Paul, it is our position that we should not ignore Baton Rouge in this hour of desperate need. Because Baton Rouge was never given the order to relocate, the citizens of Baton Rouge are still bearing the brunt of the storm. Yesterday, in a city of 500,000, approximately 300,000 residents in Baton Rouge were still without power, shelter, food and basic necessities. These people are also in dire need of equipment from FEMA and assistance from the federal government to help them reenter their homes.

Earlier this week, Karen G. and Maitri visited the United Houma Nation.  Please, please click here to read Karen G.’s account and see pictures of what she encountered.

Last I checked, all of these locations were still in America.  Baton Rouge took many New Orleanians in, including myself, and treated us warmly and compassionately even as the storm was taking aim for Baton Rouge and not New Orleans.  These hard hit areas aren’t as famous as a tourist destination as New Orleans, and the media have all but ignored their troubles.  They are onto Hanna.  And Ike.

While in Baton Rouge, I got an e-mail from the Dr. Phil show.  Many other NOLA bloggers did too.  They were prepping us to do a show—sort of Oh, No, Another Katrina.  And then Gustav only took out our lights, not our city.  And Dr. Phil’s people dropped our story like a maggoted, moldy refrigerator.

I don’t watch Dr. Phil, and couldn’t care less that I won’t be on his show.  I cared only to highlight New Orleans and keep the recovery efforts afloat.  But THERE IS A STORY HERE.  And it really pisses me off that it isn’t getting the attention it rightly deserves.  Because I also know that PEOPLE CARE.  You care.  Even if the media don’t, Americans do.

I am asking that you please keep this story going.  Keep Baton Rouge, Terrebone Parish, Lafourche Parish, and the United Houma Nation in the collective minds of America.  Please link to this post or to Karen G.’s or Maitri’s.  Or, better yet, post about it on your own blog.  We The People can make a difference even when it isn’t a big enough story for the news.

The Turn of a Switch

My electricity, cable and even internet have been restored.  The water restrictions have been lifted.  Things are officially back to normal for me.  And I find that I am disappointed.  In myself.  Let me back up.

In preparing for the storm, riding the storm out in Baton Rouge, and especially in the four days of no electricity post storm, I have been feeling more alert, more introspective, more inspired.  I’ve also been eating better and doing physical labor.  I raked and bagged all the debris in the front yard (and part of my neighbors’ yards).  The effort took two days and resulted in a curb full of broken branches and bags of leaves.

I’ve also been talking with my neighbors (even those that are still not home yet) and even met a few more.  With no a/c for most folks (I think I was the only wimp in the immediate vicinity that buckled and bought a window unit—I can blame it on Sun, though), they’ve been on their front porches and the porches of their neighbors.  Visiting.  I’ve been keeping my 70+ neighbor in cool Jell-o, ice and fruit.  In return, she gave Sun a can of apple juice.

And then as I was working on bagging those leaves and having just been talking to two neighbors, a third neighbor came running to let us know our electricity was back on.  I dropped the rake and ran inside.  It was true!  I turned on the a/c, plugged in the refrigerator, shut off the window unit and generator, called the evacuated neighbors, then turned on the tv.  The tv was on the weather channel—the last channel we’d been watching before we evacuated.  It was showing T.S. Ike.  It scared me and I was not yet ready to start tracking another possible disaster.

So I switched it to Bravo, hoping to catch the Project Runway I had missed.  Instead, it was Please Date My Ex, with Jo from the Real Housewives of Orange County.  I didn’t watch RHOC.  But next thing I knew, I was watching a marathon of her ex trying to get her matched up with a new guy.

And just like that, poof, I was back to living inside the bubble of my home that provides for all my creature comforts.  Just that quick, I no longer was concerned with spending time in the yard or talking to my wonderful neighbors or exercising.  About an hour passed and then the cable went out.  And I was relieved.  I didn’t want to watch crap tv but couldn’t make myself stop.  I think it was just a guilty pleasure because I could watch tv, but it was completely unenjoyable.

Then the cable came back on, CS came home, and we spent most of our evening watching more crap tv.  Then we turned it off and talked.  And we agree that neither of us missed the television in the least.  So we will do our best to watch less tv and instead spend more time cultivating the relationships we have with our neighbors (did I mention how awesome they all are?).

I just hope that my neighbors don’t return to their respective bubbles, and that we continue to  remember each others’ names and actually stop to say hi and inquire about each other.  Because it sure would be a shame that this great feeling of creativity and generosity of spirit only comes around during Hurricane Season.

Even Firmer in My Resolve

My office never lost electricity. Nor internet. So I am here now getting drunk off of typing with two hands instead of two thumbs and able to check things that require internet. Like Entergy’s outage map. And applying for FEMA.

Overall we are fine. Still no electricity (Day Four). But my handy new generator and window unit are serving us well. It is bearable.

I appreciate all of the show of concern and support my non-NOLA followers (and my NOLA peeps too) have been giving me. It has been a tremendous boast in the low moments.

I have so much to write; so many thoughts in my head. But I just don’t have the time now for a lengthy post. I promise to catch up with your blogs soon!!

Just know that what is important in my life—my family, my friends and my beloved city—are all doing well. My rant against Entergy and the politics of storms in the South and the impact of the destruction of the wetlands to southeast Louisiana and the rest of the country will have to wait.

A friend of mine, a clinical pshycologist, whose home was very badly damaged in Katrina and is still not completely fixed, said this to me:

It is not easy living in New Orleans these days. And some of us do it as political action. To leave would be an insult to those that were forced out by Katrina and don’t yet have the financial resources to return to their home. We press on. Because that is our choice but also because we have no choice: We must press on. If only for the sake of others.

New Orleans is a very small big city. And our sense of community just gets stronger every damn storm. We get to know our neighbors better. We get to know ourselves better. We get better at dealing on the edges of anxiety. We get stronger in our personal relationships and working as teams.

We here in the city are all relieved our levees held for Gustav. But we all also know that it was just a minor test. It was a Cat 3 that went west of us. We won’t rest until New Orleans is prepared for a Cat 5. And that we are owed.

Gustav is underway.  And I have NOT been glued to the television.  As a matter of fact, it may as well be off.  We have it on but muted.  No, my addiction is Twitter.  It is instant gratification and information.  Instead of trying to figure which news channel to watch, which to trust (especially being away from our local news), I have turned to twitter to get and confirm information.  And then I started to watch live feed of local New Orleans news channels on the internet.

Then Maitri twittered this, “Ok, everyone, turn off the TV and watch these four local news stations (WGNO, WWL, WDSU and WVUE) at http://is.gd/26y“  And now I can watch all four local news stations and turn the volume down on three and listen to the one I want to hear.  Then switch among all four.

And so as Gustav blows water over the top of the Industrial Canal (even though, as WeCouldBeFamous twittered, the Army Corps of Engineers say it isn’t an “overtopping” because the water level is still below the top of the wall and it is instead “tidal sloshing”) and punches New Orleans and nearing cities, we on the twitter are acting as neighbors and doing what we can to calm nerves and keep accurate information afloat.  Pete too posts about the help Twitter has been in this time of trouble and concern.  Great post (if you ignore those parts referencing me).

Here in the second floor of our Baton Rouge hotel, you’d not even know it was raining if you didn’t look out the window.  We are fine.  And hoping New Orleans and her levees stay intact.  And that the rest of the Gulf Coast weathers the storm well, too.

My Fixer

A mandatory evacuation was called for my parish.  That means no calling 911, no ERs, no support services.  Maybe if I hadn’t have had to take Sun to the ER last night, I’d not mind these lack of services.  Sun fell down our three outdoor steps while CS was installing our hurricane window panels and I was talking with a neighbor about her plans; Sun busted her chin and had it glued closed—very minor dink in her armor.  Maybe if I didn’t have a brand new car (mostly unpaid for) sitting in my front yard just begging to get flooded, I’d have fought CS harder to stay.

A friend had booked two hotel rooms in Baton Rouge.  Her and another friend will share one so that they could offer us our own suite so as to get Sun out of harm’s way.  My parents also had a spare hotel room in Montgomery, Alabama.  Neither hotel took dogs.  So how did I decide on Baton Rouge over Montgomery?  Why would I choose the city I suspect will have a harder impact from the storm than New Orleans?

Sinker.

Sinker is a friend I’ve had since grammar school.  He was my first boyfriend (in 8th grade).  He too is a lawyer, and he and his wife and daughter live in Baton Rouge.  Sinker is a fix-it guy.  You got a problem, call Sinker.  He can fix it or knows the folks that can.  He will do anything for his friends and family and has time and again.  And we do for him too.  I called Sinker and asked if he was staying in Baton Rouge.  He was.  I explained my options.  Without missing a beat, he said, “Bring your animals to my house.  They can stay with us.  We’ll have three other cats and at least one other dog.”

Our cat and dog are with the Sinkers tonight.  We are in our cool, quiet, dark hotel room.  My headache has returned.  But my worries for my city have lessened.  I believe Gustav will go more westerly than New Orleans and I believe it will be weaker than a Cat 4 (or even a 3) by the time it makes landfall.  I believe New Orleans will be relatively unscathed.  I believe we will soon return to our homes and resume our lives.

How could I believe otherwise?

Gustav 1, Nola 0

I can hardly gather my thoughts to write.  I got so little sleep because of my migraine.  I “awoke” to the sound of the phone ringing.  My hard-core uncle was calling to say they were leaving.  I could feel the earth shake beneath me.  I came into the den just in time to hear the news anchor say, “Get the hell outta here for the love of God,” then put his head in his hands and his co-anchor pat him on the arm.  Then CS and I gave each other that look: reluctant acceptance.

I have a confession to make.  I lied to you good people.  I am not packed to leave.  I think I thought if I didn’t pre-pack we wouldn’t have to leave.  So I am now taking a break after packing all of five minutes.

It isn’t that we may lose everything.  Once you’ve been down this road as we were with Katrina, I know all that matters I can fit in my car.  It isn’t that it will be a major inconvenience (and, oh will it).  It isn’t that it will cost a lot of money and push my nerves to the edge.

It is solely my concern for New Orleans.  And all of our lives thereafter.  I wonder how we can come back and live where Cat 4’s and 5’s are apparently a real potential threat every damn season.  I wonder how this can’t be an effect of global warming.  I wonder where we’d move if we decide to forsake our beloved motherland.

Bottom line, I am pissed off.  But even more than pissed, I am scared.  But yet I have hope.  I hope this is round one and that the final score of the big game is Gustav 0, NOLA 1.

The Headache of Gustav

Gustav is currently a Cat 4 or maybe a Cat 5.  I won’t confirm which at the moment; I haven’t the energy or the heart.  I got a migraine a few hours ago and took my good meds and a nap to knock it out; it didn’t work.  My head is still feeling like it has been visited with the pointy end of an ice pick.

The house and our store are prepped.  We are prepped.  To stay.  I still have things to gather in the event that we leave.  That decision will be made tomorrow morning.  To recap who in my world is still planning on staying, it’s three of my close neighbors, my sister (in Slidell), my uncle, and four friends.  There seems to be comfort in others doing what we are doing.  Safety in numbers or something like that.

We will not be foolish; we will not be irresponsible; we will not subject ourselves or Sun to any degree of danger.

I know this won’t be another Katrina as far as New Orleans is concerned.  The surge is what was so terrible in Katrina, and that isn’t to be an issue with Gustav unless it really goes off its projected path.  But I also know that we don’t know how our city will fare in a moderate storm with the work that has been done on the levees.  Not one New Orleanian has admitted one iota of confidence in the work of the Army Corp of Engineers.  That makes me sad and very angry.  I keep being reminded of the scandalous story of the ACE stuffing Times Picayune’s in the levees instead of, yanno, dirt.  No, it doesn’t instill confidence at all.

I suspect we will be driving to Memphis, TN or Montgomery, AL tomorrow to stay with friends and/or family.  I also suspect that two more, if not all three, of my neighbors will be leaving tomorrow.  We are all deferring that decision until tomorrow when Gustav is in the Gulf and on the move.  But I really hope I am wrong in my suspicions.  Because if we leave it is because Gustav is appearing to turn into a monster like Katrina and may just hit somewhere other than New Orleans, and THAT I don’t wish on any place or anyone.

Gustav: The Waiting

On this, the three year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we have:

  • procured a generator.
  • stocked up on food stuffs (including booze).
  • filtered lots of water.
  • gathered flashlights and batteries, hurricane lanterns, candles, fans, a radio, our satellite radio, and the contraflow map.
  • filled one car with gas and parked the other in a high and safe garage.
  • assembled phone numbers of friends, families and neighbors.
  • secured several options for places to go in the event we need to leave.
  • packed all photo albums and stored them in a safe, dry place for the duration of the storm.
  • prepared checklists of what to pack if we leave.
  • called Vet to get pets’ rabies documentation in the event they get boarded.
  • prepped my office and CS’s shop.

And now, we wait. We wait to see whether we will stay or go.  This decision is likely to be made Sunday.  Tomorrow, we will wait some more.  What I resist my damnedest to do is watch the Weather Channel or the local news for the next 30 or so hours.  They will know nothing concrete until Sunday.  So why risk my cuticles, my nerves, my very sanity for the media to churn this story?  I can’t and won’t do it.

So, what does one do when the majority of the city is leaving in droves and the nervous energy is all but electric?  I read, play with Sun, nap, twitter, watch TV, span time with CS, call family and friends.  My mind stays on the weather.  Doubt creeps in—I start to get unnerved when the city really thins out.  One of my four neighbors has left already.  But I let reason and season guide me.  I am stubborn but ultimately am more reasonable than stubborn.  And my family members, all born-and-raised New Orleanians, know when to leave and how to stay and be safe.  I trust their seasoned experience far more than all the weathermen combined.

This waiting sure gives new meaning to “long holiday weekend.”

Hurricane Generator

Today was ostensibly spent researching and seeking a generator.   But today was much, much more.  Today was the day I felt more like a New Orleanian than I have in a really long time.  And it had very little do to with the amazing muffaletta I ate at Just Italy with Warrior Engineer.  No, it had to do with seeking the advise and comfort of my elders: my uncle, my former boss and my neighbors.

1.  My uncle.  This man is a New Orleans original.  He has little idea how much I love and adore him.  I seek his counsel on all things seafood, carpentry and hurricanes.  And today we talked over and over about the right generator for me.  And he did it happily and sagely.  His final advise: Buy one and keep it in the box until you lose electricity.  If you don’t lose it and you decide you want a different generator for whatever reason, sell it.  Being still in the box will bring you more money.  See? Sage.  And he interrupted his time at the casino to impart this advise to me.  I told him he’d earned his good luck tonight. Thanks, Uncle Mernie, and do break the casino’s bank!

2. My former boss from the hardware store.  As a last resort on pinning down a generator, I called my first boss ever, E, the owner of the hardware store I worked in as a teenager.  Seemed obvious enough and I am not sure why it took so long for the thought to occur to me.  But I was immediately put at ease with what he told me about the generator he had to offer me.  I knew he wasn’t just trying to sell me something–he’d never forsake a friendship for a sale.  And my uncle supported his recommendation.  A warm bath of ease washed over me.  After hours of twisting and turning and deciding and undeciding, the decision was a simple and obvious one. Thanks, E.

3. My neighbors.  Three of the four neighbors immediately surrounding my house are older; two are in their eighties.  The fourth is a single mom about my age with a four year old son.  We all talked today, us five neighbors, and we each are currently waiting-and-seeing and staying until and unless serious danger seems imminent.  We offered them to come to us if we all stayed and they wanted the benefit of our generator.  The one other of the five of us with a generator made the same offer.  We will take care of each other.  And even if we evacuate, we won’t leave anyone behind.

And so that germ of a dream to live high on the hog during a storm has really propagated into something far more.  It has reinstilled what New Orleans is all about:  The people; the community; the watchfulness we have for each other.  Who knew that THIS is what my generator would, in fact, generate?

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