Katrina Series: November 2005

07 Oct

After five weeks of being displaced and apart, my family is now home and whole. After five weeks of emotional, physical, and mental anguish, we can start a new and better chapter in our lives. Brenda and I returned last week to assess damages and realized that although we had damage to both our home and studio, it was not enough to separate the family. We enrolled both kids in school on Friday and went back to Houston this weekend to bring them home. We are lucky; a lot of families are torn apart by this disaster.

We traveled through two different hurricane destruction zones on our way to get the kids. As you travel, you first notice trees and signs down, then billboards, then structural damage. You can see where the eye made landfall because the trees and signs change the direction of where they dropped. We passed convoy after convoy of tree services, power companies, and military (with drivers seemingly barely old enough to drive). You think “good luck and god speed” and silently say “thank you.” The traffic into New Orleans was heavy on Saturday with people who had just been given the o.k. to see their property. On Sunday, the traffic was heavy leaving the city with people who saw much more destruction and despair than we experienced. The estimate is that over half of the population won’t come back.

Although we weathered the storm in better shape than many, my life has become a series of Russian dolls. One problem is solved and another is exposed. The status quo has changed. My city has become an occupied camp that has very limited services. It is common to see young troops walking the streets with M- 16s. Humvees are everywhere. We have basics such as electricity, potable water, sewage, and gas, but in a city that used to number 50,000 on this side of the river, we have only a couple of gas stations, three restaurants, and two markets. They all do not have a lot of stock, but they all have lines. A six-pack of Heineken is the coin of the realm to facilitate things. There are a few people in the neighborhood who can “requisition” whatever you ask for. It is like Radar and Klinger on M.A.S.H.- that’s how I got a lift to get up on my studio roof!

I fired up the glass furnace in the studio, and we should be able to start making glass this week. It is hard to concentrate on work when it has become a full-time job getting all of the other things done (or started). We have been making lists to feel like we accomplish something during each day.

There are three things that you notice now. One is the smell. It is the smell of rotten meat and rancid fish. Almost everyone lost their refrigerators and freezers and the contents. The units line the streets, taped up and waiting to be hauled away. Another is the piles of garbage that are heaped on the sidewalks. They say that it might take over a year to haul off all of the debris. The final thing you notice is that the once lush tree canopy of the city was severely damaged. So many trees were toppled or split. Not many trees are taller than two stories and if they are, they are stripped of leaves. You see a lot of empty space over neighborhoods where there once were large oaks, pecan, cypress, smagnolia, and pine trees.

That is enough observations for today. I’ll leave you on one last note. I saw a hawk circling over a broken tree in front of my house…another creature displaced by a horrible storm. I hope that it finds its home and its family. I have mine. ··