Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Baton Rouge, maybe tomorrow we'll do something

Today we drove into Baton Rouge. We went east from Dallas toward Shreveport, then south to Lafayette, then we took I-10 (the one that has been really hammered by Katrina east of New Orleans and in Mississippi) to Baton Rouge.

First, it is hot. It's really freaking hot down here. Sure, it's only 95 degrees, but it's so humid that as soon as you get out of the air conditioned buildings, you just feel like your clothes are stuck to you. Also, Louisiana is kind of crappy. Driving down I-49, we expected to see towns and gas stations and stores along the highway, but for some reason, anything resembling civilization is not located along the highways.

Hurricane damage: We've seen some significant damage even as far north as Shreveport. There is a lot of water everywhere. Sure, there are swamps and bayous, which are supposed to be wet. But everything looks just waterlogged around here. There were a lot of fallen trees everywhere we looked south of Shreveport. We told ourselves that we wouldn't let the gas tank get below half-full, and gassed up as often as we could along the way. There were runs on gasoline as far north as Mansfield. We stopped at a station somewhere just south of Mansfield, and of the three stations, one was completely out of gas, while the other two had lines for gas a couple cars deep. We ate at a Wendy's, which was out of fruit, and had no other sodas than root beer, fruit punch, diet coke, and iced tea. The shelves of the gas stations were mostly empty, and it just seemed like all the people we saw were either travelling away from the hurricane-damaged parts of LA, or going back to see what's left of their homes. Everyone in this state seems to be in transition.

We stopped at a Wal Mart in Natchitoches and I picked up some hiking boots, a knife, a raincoat, and some bug spray. While I was being ringed up by the lady at the guns and ammunition counter, 8 people asked her where stuff was located in the store. 5 of her answers were "we're out of that". They're out of air conditioners, ice chests, (mostly out of) batteries, and other necessities. The store looked just well worn. Some shelves were unscathed by the purchasing populace, while other shelves were completely devoid of goods. The traffic in Natchitoches is horrible, by the way. It took more than a half hour to go just a couple miles and back. And to top it off, I set off the store alarm because of the sensor in the box of my boots (which, for the record, I did pay for).

The stretch of I-10 from Lafayette to Baton Rouge was somewhat surreal. Going east, all I saw was army/Nat'l guard caravans, fuel trucks, semis loaded with goods, heavy equipment, government vehicles (EPA, DHS, etc.), and cars full of families or full of possessions. Going west, we saw power company trucks and more of same. Most of I-10 on this stretch of road is very pleasant. It's all elevated, and you drive above swamps and bayous. There was water all below us, I don't know if it's supposed to be there all the time or not, but Southern Louisiana is waterlogged.

When we got into town, the thing I noticed most is that the feds have pretty much moved into town, and there is a general 'loose' sense across the whole state. Not lawlessness, but it just feels like there's a little more leeway to do what you feel down here.

We arrived at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality building, where I am spending the night. We checked in, got ID's made, and I was sent off to the Joint Federal Operations center down the road for my inoculations. The JOC is just insane. I was greeted by Blackwater guards, who carded me and let me in (I am a federal employee, after all). The JOC is basically this huge warehouse-cum-operations center. You name the agency, and it's in there. I went up a freight elevator full of federal police (think swat team members), and went to the medical portion of the cube forest that has sprung up inside this building. A nice lady gave me my inoculations. I know I had a Hepatitis A and B inoculation before I went to college, but being the sucker for punishment I am, got them again. Now I get to go back to the doctor in a few weeks and again in a few months to get more shots. But at least I'll be very sure I won't get Hep A or B.

Got back to the LDEQ building and went to our first briefing. We were put in a conference room full of huge satellite photos of New Orleans, and maps of known damage, flooded areas, and other information. We were shown some pictures of what to expect when we get out in the field tomorrow. All I can say is if I take pictures half as good as the ones I saw today, you're all in for some serious storm damage.

We learned what to be careful of while we're in the field: everything. There are oil slicked roads that when wet can skid your car. There are any number of poisonous snakes that can kill you. There are bugs, rabid packs of dogs, toxic waste, hazardous materials, and mold. The mold is apparently inches thick inside most of the water damaged buildings, and a lot of people are already getting upper respiratory infections. I am definitely getting a respirator if I go inside a home. WE have to watch out for gators, and spiders, and tire-flattening debris. Although almost all of the power lines we'll come across are not powered, people are hard-wiring generator to their homes, which sends juice through the lines, which just adds to the list of things that can hurt me in the field. So it should be good times. I will find out where I'll be tomorrow morning. I hope that my posts get more interesting. I'll probably post tomorrow night, if I am able to. For now, you'll have to settle for this pic of some storm damage in Baton Rouge.
Some building fell apart.

Where I'm sleeping tonight. (Sorry, it's blurry, but there are people sleeping in there now, so I ain't taking another one).

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