Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

First Days 3

Well it looks like I'm going to be going back to Louisiana sometime in the near future. I am completely happy about the opportunity to go back and help out. For one, I'm not a big fan of cold weather, and it's turning colder in Chicago every day. Ok, that's not really a reason. I just want to go back.

Anyway, here's some more pictures of what it looked like in the first days:

This could be any day on the road to and from New Orleans, but it's what traffic looked like on September 5th (and continued to look like while I was there):

Looks to me like a pile of debris created from clearing the road. I could be wrong:

Where the water meets the road:

Here's how all those boats came to end up strewn across the streets of the city:

Thank you to the good people of Tetra Tech and Weston.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

First Days 2

Here's some more Tetra Tech photos, these from the 3rd of September. Looking through the pictures, much of the urban area was clearly under water. It's surreal to see water completely surrounding every building in sight.

Thanks again to the person who took these (email me and let me know who you are so I can give you credit!).

Especially whoever took this one, as it pretty much explains what happened to the gulf coast:

Another couple shots of why the roads turned into docks:

Could you imagine driving through your city or town and seeing it look like this:

Or this:

Or this:

I'd imagine that a lot of people have pictures of the devastation, or a picture of something they saw that touched them. If anyone wants to post a picture they took, email it to me with a little story behind the picture (or caption of what it is we're looking at). I'll post it here for you. The offer extends to anyone I work with, anyone I worked with in Louisiana, or anyone who knows a person from the first two categories.

The great time killer

I didn't post yesterday but this time I have an excuse. I just got the one on the left, and gave the one on the right to my dad:

I've got Family Guy on it right now, Simpsons to come. But I digress...

Monday, October 24, 2005

First days 1

Here's a few more pics from the beginning days of the hurricane's result. Thanks to the good folks from Tetra and everyone in that warehouse in Baton Rouge(hey at least there are more things open in the neighborhood around the warehouse than there were near the LDEQ building. Frostop notwithstanding--that place has the best eats):

A flooded Canal Street:

These poor guys:

Now I need to say, I have no idea what became of those poor dogs. I have seen small packs of dogs in the streets of every heavily affected (read: neighborhoods that were ghost towns at the time I visited them) neighborhood I've been in except for the West End and the 9th Ward. Keep in mind I did not walk through entire neighborhoods, either, maybe a couple blocks and a drive into and out of the neighborhoods). I did see a solitary dog in the 9th Ward, closer to the northwest corner of the neighborhood... a little dog who looked very scared, very tired, but still alive. I must also say that I think the SPCA folks have done a good job of not only rounding up the poor animals, but also leaving clean water and giant bags of dog food every few blocks, so that these poor critters, while shocked and confused by what has happened to them, are still alive, and can eventually be rescued. So don't give up on the dogs in the picture, because there are a lot of good folks out there who are doing a lot to make sure that the impact on even the animals of New Orleans is as minimal as possible.

A sheen on the water:

And some high speed flood transportation:

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What it was like to be there on the first day

I have a lot of respect for the folks that I worked with, especially those people who were there from the outset. I had arrived onto a scene where people had already had the opportunity to search every building and vehicle which was humanly possible to search, as the spray paint on everything had indicated. But here's some pics given to me by the folks who were there from the outset. Those water lines on every building: this is what it was like to be there when that line was created.

Thanks to whoever took these pictures. It's absolutely amazing. As with every picture that is not mine, I try to give credit a best I can, and so if you know who took a certain picture let me know so I can give proper credit (see top of page for contact info). Likewise, if you took the picture and you want me to take it down, let me know.

These photos, I believe, came from August 31 (UPDATE: August 30 also/mostly), as evidenced by the date stamp in the corner. Here's what it looked like when the floodwater filled the bowl:

Stop signs are pretty high up, and you can see the tip of one in the center of this picture:

I saw a lot of boats randomly strewn about the city while I drove through it. Here's how a lot of them got there. It's amazing that they had to turn the on/off ramps into loading docks:

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Post-trip pictures

I've promised to upload more pictures, so here we go. I've literally got thousands of pictures of this event, and there's no way I can put them all up, so I'll do a few at a time and eventually run out of server space.


So my last day in Louisiana, I ended up going back to New Orleans in order to introduce my replacement, Carolyn, to the air sampling crew, so that they could get on the same page. It ends up that Troy-who I worked with every day in the office-was about to take a little vacation, and he, too had a replacement who would need to meet everyone. Gina (who worked in the office too) was putting together a picture show of all the things EPA is doing out there, and came along to document the air sampling stations that we were building. So we took a field trip. We caravaned over to the Metarie Technical College (where the whole operation ended up moving on the day I left), where we had a meeting. From there, we went downtown to see what it looked like. While there, we ended up at 'tent city' which the federal government (namely FEMA) had set up. Let me tell you something. When the government gets going, serious stuff happens. This camp was blocks big and had air conditioned tents, laundry facilities, bathrooms, you name it.

We were used to eating MRE's (meals ready to eat) while out in the field. Now, while MRE's are made of food, they're no seven course meal. We heard that there were better eats at tent city, so we checked it out. All rumors turned out to be more than true! We went to the lunch trailer, which was a semi truck literally filled with sack lunches. It was amazing. We were given giant sack lunches, which, seriously, could have sustained us all day if necessary. There was a sandwich with like 2 inches of lunch meat between the bread, a can of juice, a can of V8, a can of Chef Boyardee pasta, a candy bar, fig newtons, a big jug of Powerade, and condiments (I know I'm forgetting stuff--at the time it felt like we were opening the horn of plenty). Anyway, here's all of us, happy as pigs in...well...just happy to be eating actual food:
(Gina and I are giving props to the sack lunch genie, who magically filled an entire truck with tasty lunches for aid workers)

Anyway, our food comas over, we headed out to the lower 9th ward, because we knew that it was almost dry, but wanted to see exactly what it looked like. It still smelled like a bog, and with daylight running out, it was very quiet and still very somber.

I suspect this was a block of homes, but you can see that one house floated and landed on top of some stuff.

Apparently, there may or may not be/have been a body in there. Maybe the rescuers smelled the corpse of a dog (or a rotting refrigerator) but who knows, it's still eerie:

More of people's lives in a giant, destroyed pile:

So much stuff inside that front door, and the rescue markings indicate that a dog was found and probably rescued:

The barge which floated over the levee:

The giant skid mark which I think the barge made as it came over the levee:

What I call the 'drive thru house', a home that had floated partially across the street. What you can't see is that the wall on the other side of the house (where those folks are standing and looking at) had fallen down, and you could look right into what used to be someone's living room:

Said living room (I wonder if that clock kept running or had stopped...I don't remember what time we were there, but it was later in the afternoon for sure):

A home that floated and then landed on some cars:

What used to be someone's bathroom:

Now this one was strange. We walked about a block from where we parked, because some parts of the Lower 9th ward are impassible by car. And we came upon a pool of floodwater (one of the several which pockmark the ward, as the pumps can't get to these pools, they must evaporate) which had some egrets swimming in it. It's hard to explain, but because of the silence of standing in the middle of the desolation, all we heard was the sound of these birds splashing in the water. It's something you'd expect to see and hear in a forest, and it sure sounded like it but to see them in this setting is just weird:

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Well, I got home on Saturday, October 8. I left Baton Rouge at about 6:30am, and got in the front door at about 7:45pm. It was a long ass day of driving, my friends. I drank coffee. I stopped at rest stops. I had McDonald's and a bunch of granola bars. I stared at the highway. If it wasn't for the satellite radio in the car, I would have probably been drooling, too. I spent the first two nights home showing my family and friends all the pictures I have, and telling them all the stories I'd lived through. It was good to be home, but sad to leave Louisiana. It's hard to explain.

The weird thing is that while I felt really bad for the people whose lives were ended or affected by the hurricane, I never felt terribly adversely affected by what I saw while I was actually there. Sure, I was shocked by the destruction. I couldn't help but get that knot in my throat when I saw a picture of a family lodged in the sediment of a flooded neighborhood. The thing is, the general mood of not only the people around me, but the people I'd encountered whose homes had been destroyed was positive. Families on their way to look through what used to be their homes (much like what you see on this blog) still smiled and waved to me, even in the middle of that wasteland that is the hardest-hit parts of New Orleans and southern Louisiana. Still, when I got home, I had dreams of walking, driving through the really hard hit neighborhoods. They weren't nightmares, but the kind of dreams you have that you wake up and just know were weird in that things-are-not-supposed-to-be-like-that way.

I work for EPA, so my job is by default rewarding. I can make an actual difference in peoples' lives--albeit a small one. Not too many people can say that about their jobs. However, I can honestly say that I've never been as interested in or excited about the work I do as I was about the work I performed in Louisiana. Nor have I ever felt like I've actually done something like when I was in Louisiana.

I have left my laptop at work since I got back, so I haven't posted because I don't have any pictures to upload. But tomorrow I'm going to give a little narrated slide show for my section, and will then bring my laptop home. I promise that I will put more pictures and stories up then.

By the way, the last night I was in Baton Rouge, I had a good conversation with the lady who works the security desk at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality building. I know I told her so, but she's the perfect example of humanity: she's housing evacuees from New Orleans. You find that when you meet people who actually accomplish good things in this world, you have a very deep respect for them.

Also, I genuinely enjoyed meeting and working with everybody down there. There are too many people to say hello and thank you to. I know I'm too spastic to remember to post a 'thank you' post about the folks I met. However, to anybody who reads this who was or still is working down in Louisiana: Thanks for the opportunity to meet you. I'll never forget you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Guest Photobogging, Part 4

Ok, so I am not 100% sure on who took these, but I saw this stuff with my own eyes when driving through the 9th ward of New Orleans (if you know, let me know). First off, you'll notice that city buses seem to have been abandoned and left on the sides of the road. I don't know what transpired to have them end up like this, but going through the lower 9th, I saw about 3 buses which look like the driver just up and took off. Perhaps they got flooded out and the drivers needed to be rescued. I don't know. Also, people have created what can very loosely be termed "sidewalk disaster art". When you drive through the 9th ward, you see these assemblages on the median of the road, and at first they look like debris, like everything else. When you get closer, you notice that people put these things together. From what I understand, many of these are now removed, but thankfully someone took these photos for posterity. Honestly, it's a little creepy to see this stuff.
Abandoned bus.
Another one.
The sign reads "Lower 9th R.I.P.". Sad.
"Toxic Art: This exhibition will kill you"

I'm pretty sure that Martha Steward did not sleep there.
Someone broke into the wig store and created this. It's pretty damn eerie to see.
A below-ground pool has been converted to an above-ground pool thanks to Katrina.

Guest Photoblogging, Part 3

Ok, so the formatting on that last post is screwy. I am not well versed in html, nor am I going to attempt to learn. So here's some more pictures from Sandy. She got to go up in a helicopter, and I've included a few pic of what she saw from the sky.

This gives you a sense of the scale of destruction out there. It's insane.

You can also see the 17th street canal breach, where I was on the ground on both sides. Check the pictures that I posted on September 30. The last 9 pictures are from the areas on both sides of the 17th street canal breach. The way to tell the difference between the "good" and "bad" sides is the sludge and mud on the "bad" side. Even though the contrast is amazing, both areas are pretty badly damaged. Obviously the flooded side moreso.

Here's more pics from Sandy. Thanks, Sandy.

I leaned up against the levee/floodwall directly across from the breach, pretty much right where that street runs perpendicular to the canal. The pictures I posted on the 30th which show folks leaning up against the floodwall...well, they're standing approximately right there. All the nasty destruction photos from the 30th were taken in the general vicinity of the breached side of the canal. I can't believe that's what it looked like. On second thought, I can.

See that middle tank on the right side? Notice how it had floated up and moved a number of feet and shifted. This caused a number of gallons of oil to leak out. On second inspection, notice how all three tanks on the right appear to have lifted up and shifted... That's a lot of oil in those tanks. Strike that. That's a lot of oil on the ground that used to be in those tanks.
Unfortunately, this is not a photo of Venice...

Guest Photoblogging Part 2

Still the office monkey, so I asked Joe if he would let me share photos of some of his travels, and he said sure. Joe's a rugged guy, and when I get back to the trailers each night, he's there with a beer and a smoke, telling us his tales of being in the field north of New Orleans. But even he seems to be affected by what he sees every day. It's easy to just see numbers and statistics when you're in an office, but when you're out in the field, you see refrigerators, fuel canisters, oil spills, destroyed homes, and everything that the hurricane and storm surge have wrought throughout southern Louisana.

Joe has seen some amazing things, but I think this picture is the most amazing. There is this house with one of its walls completely torn off, and yet the bed is perfectly made:


He's also seen a lot of refrigerators, coolers, and the like which are full of spoiled meat. These things have been baking in 90+ degree heat for over a month. The flies love it. The humans certainly do not:

I don't want to even think about what that smells like.

Check out the car underneath the water here:

I guess you can tell your destroyed home is in Louisiana by the giant box of mardi-gras beads in the rubble pile:

When this area was flooded, it made sense to tie your boat to a street sign. It looks a little different once the waters recede:

Alternatively, you could let the storm and flood park your boat for you:

Here are a few more things that can make even a rugged guy like Joe feel overwhelmed:

Thanks for letting me post these pictures, Joe.