Today, like yesterday, and the day before, I spent the day in the Midtown District of New Orleans. The days have been rough and long. I do not have much energy left at this point today but I will do my best to put down my thoughts in a cohesive manner.
I want to talk about Coach. I met Coach today while we were driving through Midtown. We waved to him from the sedan and he flagged us down. We pulled the car over and the four of us got out and met Coach and several of his neighbors. The first thing Coach asked us was why we we were only talking to people living in FEMA trailers. I responded to him that we had been assigned the FEMA Trailer Survey Prjoect and explained the idea behind the project. Coach looked at the four of us and said that he was not living in a trailer and that folks not living in the trailers needed held just as much as those who had received FEMA trailers.
We spoke with Coach for a while and with several of his neighbors. They told us how the city of New Orleans made it so difficult for them as to where they could place their FEMA trailers that many of the folks in the neighborhood simply gave up. The trailers could not be placed under power lines, or phone lines, or be touching any part of the sidewalk. One of his neighbors was lucky enough to have received a FEMA trailer but they were never given a key. FEMA never answered any of their requests for the key, so the trailer is sitting empty in the driveway of a now abandoned house.
After some time had passed Coach began to open up more about his experience. He invited us into his house and offered us root beer and dinner and Coach gave me my first Sasparilla. He asked us if we had seen Spike Lee's documentary and proceeded to tell us that Spike Lee had nothing on him. After listening to Coach recant his story to us I realized that watching a documentary and sitting in person with someone who experienced this catastrophe and is still experienceing this catastrophe are totally different experiences.
He told us how the day after Katrina had made landfall that he and his mother were sitting outside cleaning up and that for the most part their neighborhood and home had weathered the storm very well. More importantly, one of the reasons they chose not to evacuate is because they had always been told that Midtown had too high of an elevation to be flooded out by more than three feet even if a Levee were to breach. Furthermore, most people in their neighborhood did not have flood insurance because in short they has been told they would never need flood insurance. A full 24 hours after the storm had passed Coach noticed that water was starting to flow down the street. After an hour the water had risen to the curb level. He and his mother figured that maybe a water pipe had ruptured. Or worse case scenario if the 17th street levee had breached than maybe the water would rise to about three feet or so and they decided to wait. The water rose above the level of the street up to the first step leading to the front door. Then it rose to the second step, and then the third step, and then the fourth step. Coach realized the water was not going to stop rising at three feet.
Coach was able to find a boat that had washed out from a nearby storage facility and for hours he waded in six feet of water rescuing as many of his neighbors as possible and pushing the boat to the bridge so these people could walk to the Superdome. After several hours he was able to hotwire the boat engine and continued to rescue as many people as he could and who were willing. I could see the pain in his eyes as over and over again all he could say to me to express how unbelievable the situation was by saying, "It was bad. It was bad. I can't tell you how bad it was." He gave us a book that was published by the Times-Picayune, the largest local newspaper for the New Orleans Metro area, that had hundreds of photographs of the devastation. He was pointing out pictures of friends and relatives that were in these published photos. Coach asked us that we bring the book back to San Francisco and show it to as many people as we can and to tell his story and let people know that New Orleans needs help now more than ever.
As a fellow member of our group stated earlier tonight in conversation, this is our duty as Americans and as Humans to be here in New Orelans, right now, and in the future. As far as I have seen in the last three days, this event has really shined a light on the absolute best of humanity and the absolute worst. We cannot forget about these people and this city just because it has been a year, or a year and a half or two years. We cannot ever forget until we can bring this community back to be bigger and better than it ever was before Katrina. To anyone who may read this blog, I may not be the most eloquent or grammatically correct writer, but please see through to the deeper level I am trying to express. New Orleans and its people are a part of us as Americans and as fellow human beings and we cannot just walk away or forget their plight.