Fall Out Mississippi

by bicyclemark

I arrived in Long Beach, Mississippi a little earlier than I expected. John and Jo, my hosts and local experts, were not home yet. Which allowed me to follow my nose and explore the barren landscape on my own.

Some 35,000 people lost their homes along this coast line, and up ahead I can see the beach.. or what is left of it. Mostly all I see is the extremely bright white sand that looks like it was just dropped off there to pretend to be a beach, and the ocean which is right there looking like any minute it will swallow everything in its path, yet again.

While it has been a year and a half, not much has been rebuilt along the shoreline. No one would dare to, I guess. On the other hand many of those families are still waiting to see if they can get some insurance money or funding from one of the designated sources. And beyond that, I hear that many have already picked up and moved inland… a mass exodus away from the ocean that helped to erase the homes they had known and loved.

I head towards the beach drive, which seems like it should be pretty as it follows the coast for as far as the eye can see. Lots and lots of beach.

However beautiful is not the word that came to mind. Baghdad is actually what came to mind, especially when I got to the two street lights that had been destroyed and left only the aluminium polls hanging over the street, looking like the two swords that hover over that main Boulevard in Baghdad.

Interesting comparison.. the gulf coast and iraq. Oddly enough more members of the Mississippi national guard have probably worked in Baghdad than in Long Beach. More money goes to the Iraqi government and the occupation effort than to the rebuilding effort. Fortunately for Iraqi’s, they didn’t have to deal with insurance companies that pretended they were there for the community and then refused to pay for the damages caused by Katrina. Then again, in Long Beach there are no troops going door to door searching houses and there’s no danger of suicide bombers, that I know of.

Tuepker residence

Eventually I got over the comparisons in my head and just focused on understanding the environment around me. Driveways leading up a hill… to nowhere. No houses, just slabs, or more ghastly.. the pillars.. white pillars which once held up a house, now looking for like the ruins of some destroyed Greek villa. Scraps of clothes, and other assorted person items can still be seen in a few trees and on the ground, the majority I later see in photos, having been cleaned up by the army corps of engineers.

After seeing all this and feeling like some stranger trampling a sacred burial ground, I went back to John and Jo’s. Sure enough, they were home… and that’s when the real learning process began… starting with how things went, day one after the storm.

bm193 Oasis in the Ninth Ward

by bicyclemark

Somewhere in the upper ninth ward, amidst the destruction and abandonment, there are 400 volunteers occupying a school. Everyday they fan out into the city and take on a task that most would not have the courage for. In this podcast, I speak to a few of those volunteers.

Common Ground Collective (read their site and consider going there yourself)

Topics include:
– Where different students are from
– How does the collective work
– What kind of work do they do, how many hours
– Where does funding, tools, etc come from.
– How does the community receive them
– What has happened to the ninth ward
– Where are the residents
– Awareness outside the gulf coast
– Concern on college campuses
– Other organizations involved

 

Some Americans’ Priorities

by bicyclemark

I started off the morning by heading to the ninth ward… err.. nine ward. Having heard soo much about it, I was anxious to be there and see how people were dealing with post Katrina life more than a year and a half later. Lil Robin lives just a stones throw down the road from the ward, so I had little trouble finding it. You know when you’re in the ninth ward… it’s hard not to know.. war zones stick out like that.

When I say war zone, I should say, post-war zone. And I don’t mean a storm versus humans, I mean a war between those determined to get their lives back and those that have been spit out to some far away state and can’t afford the financial, legal or mental burden of coming back.

As I drove down the street I wish I had some kind of tank. Not because I felt unsafe, how scared can you be of entire city blocks with no sign of life. But the huge craters and random debris that some streets seem full of, made me think I might not make it through with a measly compact car.

The closer I came to St. Mary’s school, what I had been told was the headquarters of one of the biggest volunteer relief group in the city… Common Ground, the closer I got the more signs of life and hope I saw. A newly planted row of trees looking healthy and attractive, in the middle of a block full of half destroyed houses and an occasional FEMA trailer. Or sometimes, like a mirage in the desert, an army of students would appear on the horizon; fully equipped with respirators, hard hats, and what look like chemical suits: the brave “gutters” who must first demolish the rotting and moldy parts of houses before they can rebuild. One big group is not working as I pass, instead there is loud music playing and there looking back at me is a group of 40 young people, hammers in hand, dancing to hip hop music. I smiled and waved.

St MAry's

Finally I arrived at St. Mary’s… which looks alot like the Catholic school I attended in Newark. Hell, it even looks like a school day, in front of the building various groups of kids are huddled calling out plans and reviewing maps of who will go where for what duty today? Occasionally someone pulls up in a truck already spilling over with people dressed in construction gear, and they point to someone sitting on the steps and shout “you… come with us to work on so-and-so street”.

Once in the building, there is an organized chaos that would make an Amsterdam squat blush. In every corner there is some sign or some reminder for volunteers, and people cleaning or fixing or preparing something. This school, after all, has not been a school since Katrina. Nevermind that there are no kids left in the neighborhood anyway, having been bussed to all kinds of states as part of the post-Katrina strategy, this school now serves a different long term and vital role… the central hub for people who have come to rebuild.

This was one hour of my morning, which gives you an idea of how it can be in New Orleans… every hour.. if you look.. you’ll see something amazing.. good or bad.