posted: February 28th, 2007 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Yesterday, Janie and I rode through a city still reeling from massive destruction. We were on the Grey Line Hurricane Katrina Tour, and almost everywhere we went there were huge vacant buildings with rubble strewn about. In Saint Bernard Parish, our tour guide pointed out a massive wrecking yard and said that Katrina created more than three years of debris in a few short days. He said that one of the greatest effects were the hundreds of thousands of new cars flood waters destroyed.
NOT ENTERED: “Not all the cars were completely destroyed,” said Brad, our tour guide. “Some still run, but if you’re in the market for a used car, I strongly suggest you ask for documentation on the car’s history. Not all of our used car dealers are above board.”
The bus tour continued and Brad pointed out a number of business still closed, to include a Walmart, Home Depot, Subway, McDonalds—Peppe’s Lounge, and the Chicken Box. Katrina gutted those building and although the hurricane with its Class V surges occurred August 26, 2005, the city has not yet recovered. But I guess the one image that impressed me more than another was the information spray-painted on all-too-many abandoned homes. In bold red Guardsmen had painted the date and time and then the simple notation:
Together the two letters mean “Not Entered.” And that in turn means that at the time National Guardsmen knocked on the door, no one answered and, so, Guardsmen had NOT ENTERED the premises. In some cases, that meant the occupants were ignoring Mayor Ray Nagin’s orders to evacuate, but in other cases, it meant the occupants were dead.
In fact, lots of people were dead, and when officials had completed the final tally at least 1,836 people lost their lives, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. The storm created $81.2 billion in damage, establishing it as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
JACKSON SQUARE: But the people here in New Orleans have not been idle, and after the bus tour, we wandered to some of the haunts along Bourbon Street I once enjoyed as a young man. Jackson Square was still intact, and in fact, all the French Quarter had been spared much damage as it is one of the few areas in New Orleans actually above sea level.
DOC PAULIN: Jackson Square is typically the place in which a number of street musicians gather, and it is here we met Dwayne Paulin. “Doc” is dedicated to the preservation of New Orleans jazz. Prior to the hurricane he had been a music teacher in one of the local schools, but now, he’s a street musician.
During intermission he visited with us at length and told us that his grandfather, now 98, had survived the storm but that his home had been devastated. “Doc” was not a con man, but a man genuinely hoping to help preserve the art form for which New Orleans may be best known. His Paulin Brothers Brass Band soon launched into their rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” We listened to more of the band’s jazz, and then—and without any arm twisted—we bought one of his CDs.
YOUNG LADY: The music drew a number of young people from the crowd, and one young lady danced before the group, and I photographed her, too, essentially because she had a sense of humor, and because her joy of life represented the hope for the resurgence of a devastated city.
She wore a black tee shirt and on it was printed the inscription:
We Will Always Remember
Other street musicians had also returned, and they were playing on one of the adjacent streets. We passed Antoines, the famous restaurant where my parents and I had once enjoyed the epicurean dinners for which it had established an international reputation.
Just off Bourbon Street, we passed Preservation Hall, famous for the preservation of jazz music, and I was delighted to see it was still operational. Next to it, we passed Pat O’Brian’s, famous for food and music.
FORTUNE TELLER: Then we returned to Jackson Square and watched a fortune teller setting up his business not far from the Doc’s band. Certainly, New Orleans is a liberal and tolerant town, but for all those reasons, it will always be one of my favorite cities in which to hang out for a few days.
That night we returned to our KOA campsite located at the edge of New Orleans. Though there were a few other campers like us, most occupied FEMA trailers, and we’ve become acquainted with a few of the residents.
Next to us was a policeman, while behind us, was a local hospital worker. These people were also displaced—and are still displaced.
Certainly, the occupants of these trailers will always remember Hurricane Katrina, and now, after seeing the devastation and talking to some of the true heroes such as Doc Paulin, a man trying to make a difference, we, too, will always remember.
Happily, however, New Orleans seems poised to regain its prominent place in America, and to me, that in itself is worthy of regaining its reputation as a great travel destination.